Milk home delivery in metro Atlanta is now a thing of the pastVintage Mathis milk bottles stored in a Mathis milk crate (Photo by Kelly Jordan)
By Maria Saporta
It is an end of an era.
This past week marked the end of home delivery of milk products in metro Atlanta.
Preston Born and his partner, Rick Lee, operated the last milk home delivery service in the Atlanta region – serving about 240 customers who had held on to the tradition of yesteryear.
As one of those 240 customers, Born broke the news in a note that was included with my last delivery of milk (and eggs) on Jan. 3.
For the past 35 years, it has been my privilege to offer home delivery of dairy products to metro Atlanta residents. Some of you have been with me the entire time while others started more recently. I cannot find the proper words to express my appreciation for your support.
However, the time has come when I am afraid that I can no longer offer the home delivery service…. For several years, all the home delivery has been done by Rick Lee, but he recently celebrated his 70th birthday and feels it is time for him to cut back.
We have talked about this for several years but wanted to try to continue at least through 2017. This is a tribute to Mr. R.L. Mathis, who started Mathis Dairy in 1917. Since both Rick and I got our start at Mathis Dairy, we wanted to see it last 100 years…
The words – Mathis Dairy – were also a throwback to a simpler time. Many Atlanta natives remember going to the Mathis Dairy Farm in Decatur for picnics combined with an opportunity to milk Rosebud, the famous dairy cow.
My parents started our family tradition of getting Mathis milk delivered to our home every Wednesday morning. I still remember the unique glass milk bottles would be left in our milk container. And I’ve never tasted chocolate milk that was better than the Mathis brand.
In the early 1990s, Mathis sold its dairy business to a company from Ireland, and that may have been the beginning of the end. That company switched from the milk bottles to plastic. And the brand of the milk changed over the years.
Recently, we’ve been receiving milk from Prairie Farms, and even though it was not Mathis milk, I still appreciated the convenience of getting milk delivered to my home every Wednesday morning.
But times change. Just ask Preston Born.
Born was only 12 years old when he started out helping his brother deliver milk – then from Puritan Dairies.
“I would get $3 a day plus my breakfast,” said Born, explaining he was a “striker” – also known as the driver’s helper.
By the time he was 16, he was given his own route, which he drove in the afternoon after school. Puritan shut down its home delivery service in 1980, and it sold its business to Mathis. Two years later, Mathis offered its drivers an opportunity to buy their routes. And Born has been in the home delivery business ever since.
“At one point, Mathis was huge. It had over 70 routes,” Born said in a telephone interview. “I’m not aware of anybody else still delivering milk today. I would probably have more business than I would know what to do with if people knew we were here.”
Jack Mathis was the last person to run Mathis Dairies – a business started on Jan. 6, 1917 by his father R.L. Mathis, someone who Born referred to as Mr. Lloyd.
“At one time, we had more than 30,000 (home delivery) customers,” said Mathis, who has become a historian of dairy industry. He was only 21 when he started working at the Mathis Dairy Farm.
“Everything has changed,” Mathis said.
Born has seen it firsthand.
“There’s been a change in people’s shopping habits,” Born said. “There are far more grocery stores around today than when I was growing up.”
Born can remember when Puritan Dairies, Atlanta Dairy, Mathis and Irvindale Dairies all delivered milk in metro Atlanta.
“I really hate to see it shutting down,” Born said. “It has enabled me to make a living for me and my family. I just hate to see it go away.”
Born and Lee will continue to deliver milk to daycare centers and smaller schools. But the home delivery service had to come to an end because Born and Lee had gotten to an age where they could no longer do it.
“It’s hard to find people who will get up at 1 a.m. to go to work,” Born said. “What we really were selling was a service. I would have liked to have kept it up.”
And his customers felt the same way.
“I have been overwhelmed by the responses from customers,” Born said, adding that one of his lady customers said she had been getting her milk delivered for 75 years.
Although Mathis Dairy is no more, Born and Lee still felt so connected to the company that they wanted to stay in the home delivery business until the centennial anniversary of Atlanta’s most famous dairy.
“All things must pass,” Born said. “There’s a season for all things.”