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History a 'whey' of life for Cache Valley farm

Published October 19, 2011 10:50 pm

Couple get national honor for saving piece of American history.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Richmond • When Pete Schropp first drove onto the old Burnham farm 25 years ago, it was dotted with half a dozen old, ramshackle wood buildings.

The roof on the chicken coop had collapsed, the electrical wiring in the granary was a fire hazard, and years of accumulated debris covered the floors in the milking barn.

"Anyone else would have looked at this as a complete money pit, just too much work," said Jennifer Hines, who became co-owner of the farm when she married Schropp in1988. "But Pete really had a vision that he could do something with it."

Over the past quarter century, Schropp and Hines have painstaking rebuilt or modified the buildings, some of which date to the 1920s. Ultimately, they converted the building into usable space for their micro-dairy and creamery that produces top-quality artisan cheese and also serves as a gathering place for this Cache Valley community about 90 miles north of Salt Lake City.

On Thursday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will recognize the couple, owners of Rockhill Creamery, for saving this piece of American history. The Utah business is one of 23 recipients of the 2011 Preservation Honor Award, honoring groups and individuals who have rescued and restored important landmarks.

"The way they preserved the buildings and incorporated them into cheese production is certainly what made them worthy of the award," said Kirk Huffaker, with the Utah Heritage Foundation, which submitted Rockhill's national application.

Schropp, 50, and Hines, 60, won't be able to accept the award in person — there's too much work to be done on the farm. The herd of six Brown Swiss cows need milking, and the artisan cheese needs to be made, aged and distributed to restaurants and markets around the West.

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Farm history •The Rockhill Creamery farm dates to 1895 when James and Amy Burnham, along with their 12 children, lived and worked on property. James, a prominent local mason and bricklayer, built the 1,700-square-foot Victorian-style house where Schropp and Hines live.

The Willis Erickson family purchased the property sometime in the 1930s, and for the next 50-plus years used it as a chicken ranch. He built most of the farm buildings, including a coop that housed as many a 7,000 laying hens, an egg-cooling building and the signature four-story "inside-out" style granary, which has become the Rockhill Creamery marketing logo.

The farm caught Schropp's attention in 1986. As a Logan Herald Journal photographer, Schropp said he would often be out on an assignment, photographing the agricultural life in the Cache Valley. He yearned to have a place where he could work the land and be his own boss.

When the Burnham property came up for sale, Schropp set that dream in motion, purchasing the 3.75-acre property for $44,000.

"It was a falling-down dump when I bought it," he said. But as someone who claims he always liked old buildings, Schropp saw potential.

Later, Schropp met and married Hines, who worked as an editor at the Herald Journal, and together they tried to find a way to make a living off the farm. "We wanted to save this historic old farm and make it viable," Hines said. "But we wanted a business that matched the values we believed in."

Finding their whey • Initially, the couple raised calves, getting the female animals when they were just days old and selling them back to the dairies when they had grown to 400 pounds. When local dairies started going out of business, they decided to look for business where they could be self-sufficient. That's when they came up with idea of making cheese, which Hines, an avid cook, had been making on a small scale in her home kitchen.

While Hines attended cheese-making classes at Utah State University, Schropp converted the old egg-cooling building into a parlor where the cheeses could be made and aged. The original wood siding and other materials were salvaged and reused to maintain the historical integrity of the building.

The milking area and loafing sheds were built on the foundation of the old chicken coop. Other buildings were shored up and used in their original capacity including the hay barn and the brooding shed for raising calves.

In 2006, the granary was rehabilitated to become the store where Rockhill sells its cheeses during the summer months.

Today, the Creamery makes nine varieties of aged cows' milk cheeses — about 200 pounds a week — including gouda, gruyere, edam and feta.

Preserving the creamery has been good for business, and good for Richmond. Every Saturday during the summer, the city holds a farmers market on the Rockhill Farm, located about five blocks from the town center. People can buy locally grown produce, pet calves, sample cheese and listen to live music.

And the market attracts more than just the locals, said Terrie Wierenga, a member of the Richmond City Council. Food and history lovers from Salt Lake County, Utah County and even as far as St. George have made the drive to Richmond to visit the farm.

"The fact that Pete and Jennifer have done the work themselves, a little bit each year without million-dollar grants and loans, is impressive," she said.

kathys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kathystephenson

Facebook: http://www.facbook.com/NowSaltLake History lives at Rockhill Creamery

The National Trust for Historic Preservation will recognize Pete Schropp and Jennifer Hines, owners of Rockhill Creamery, for restoring the historical buildings on their Cache Valley farm and turning them into usable space for their micro-dairy and artisan cheese-making business.

Where • Rockhill Creamery, 563 S. State, Richmond

Cheese • Rockhill makes nine varieties of aged cows milk cheese including gouda, gruyere, edam and feta.

Buy • Liberty Heights Fresh, Whole Foods and select Harmon's Grocery Stores. Also available through mail order.

Details • rockhillcheese.com or on Facebook —

2011 Preservation Honor Awards

The last time a Utah building was honored by the National Trust was in 2004, when the renovation of Salt Lake City's First Security Bank Building, at 400 South and Main Street, was recognized.

Along with Rockhill Creamery, other 2011 honorees include a motor lodge in Tucson, a theater project in Boston and a brewery in Baltimore. The awards will be presented Thursday during the National Trust's annual conference in Buffalo, N.Y.