Java Dairy Farm

Times were difficult after the Civil War. Labor was hard to find and land prices were low. Java plantation had a succession of owners, all trying various ways to make money. However, none were very successful.

In 1915 Robert L. Forrest bought Java Farm and started changing it into a dairy operation. The property was quite run-down, so Forrest hired local laborers to reclaim the fields. He also hired an Annapolis contractor to construct the buildings. He first built a barn for the cattle, a house for himself, and a house for a superintendent. Other buildings included a calf barn, office, milking parlor, horse barn, corn crib, metal shed, and a wooden shed.

Forrest began with a herd of sixteen registered Holstein cows and a bull. By 1935 there were 150 cows, each with a name and number. Detailed accounts pertaining to each cow documented growth and milk production. Forrest used a special barn to keep pregnant cows for up to 60 days before calving. He also used specific barns to wean calves from their mothers by hand feeding them. Forrest reserved small pastures near the barn for sick cows and for those that were heavy milkers, while other pastures separated the bulls from the cows.

Milk produced at Java Farm was either pasteurized or "certified." Certified milk came from cows guaranteed to be disease free. All personnel on a certified dairy had weekly health inspections. This was administered by the Medical Milk Commission of Maryland which also tested the milk for chemicals and bacteria. A special milking machine pumped the milk from the cow into stainless steel refrigerated containers. Lastly, the milk went through a mechanical process of bottling and sealing.

In 1935 Java Farm had 300 customers. Deliveries were made in an old truck. The truck only reached a speed of 25mph and had to be driven standing up. It usually took 14-18 hours to complete a run. Customers of Java Farm included the U.S. Naval Academy (before it started its own dairy) and the Annapolis Hospital. Like the dairy personnel all drivers were required to have health inspections to maintain Java Farm's certification to sell unpasteurized milk. Health inspectors occasionally stopped the trucks and performed tests on the milk for temperature, bacteria counts, and butterfat content.

Milk from Java Farm contained high concentrations of vitamins due to the cultivation of special feeds and to a special method of drying hay. The drying was done in an experimental machine called a hay dehydrator. It was the first of its kind in Maryland. The hay dehydrator had three advantages over field-dried hay. First, the dehydrator dried the hay more rapidly. Therefore, the efficiency of the process aided the hay in retaining more nutrients. Also, the amount of water in dehydrated hay was low, resulting in a storing advantage. With less bulky hay, the farmer could store more hay in less space. Despite its advantages, the dehydrator created a few problems. For example, the process eliminated the roughage needed by cattle, resulting in a required diet supplement of barley, oats, and legumes. Also, the super-heated hay was capable of spontaneous combustion which caused, supposedly, more than one fire in the dehydrating plant.

In order to enhance the productivity of the dairy farm, Robert L. Forrest made many changes to the land. He enclosed pastures with cypress fencing due to a supposed fear that barbed wire would endanger his cattle. An orchard of pear and apple trees was planted where chickens and beehives were also kept and maintained. Although forested areas were not cut, fallen trees were removed to keep appearances "tidy." In an effort to drain the land, Forrest dug out ditches and installed ceramic drainage pipes with diameters ranging from 5 to 10 inches, Many of these ditches have since caved in, exposing the pipes and creating small ponds.

In building a dairy Mr. Forrest made many changes, yet the single greatest impact on the land resulted from the grazing of cattle. Cows held in small pastures trampled the soil, compacting it, which impeded its ability to hold water and oxygen. Due to the fact that these vital requirements for healthy plant growth remained scarce in the soil, only hardy species of plants lived in these areas. Also, many species of thorny plants dominated the landscape due to a lack of predation from the cattle. This combination effectively changed the vegetation of the land on and surrounding the farm.

As World War II approached, Robert Forrest had trouble keeping help on Java Farm. In 1940 he sold his 150 cows and much of the farm equipment. What happened at this point is unclear. Depending on the source of information, Mr. Forrest either worked in the South Pacific during the war, developed submarine warfare, or helped plan the invasion of Africa. By 1945 he was alone on Java Farm and in 1947 he abandoned it altogether.

Mr. Forrest visited Java occasionally, once as late as 1952. He lived in New York at the Yacht Club for a while and then in Baltimore. Growing increasingly senile, Forrest was placed in a mental hospital in 1960. He died at Union Memorial Hospital on October 30, 1962 at the age of 84.

Shortly after his death, the executor of his estate sent a letter to the Smithsonian Institution along with a copy of Robert Lee Forrest's will. He left the 368-acre Java Farm and assets totaling $1,700,000 to the Smithsonian.