Ask McGehee

What is the history of Graf’s Dairy?

Graf’s Dairy as seen in 1929

The first listing for Graf Brothers Dairy appeared in Mobile’s 1900 city directory, which gave an address of “Springhill Shell Road, 4 miles, residence same.” The proprietors were German-born brothers Karl and Emil Graf. There were 30 active dairies listed that year for the Mobile area.

Five years later, Emil established his dairy on Dauphin Street,  beyond the city limits near present-day Sage Avenue. Karl’s  occupation in the 1905 listing was “farmer,” and later editions indicate he became a contractor.

Then, by the 1920s, Graf’s Dairy was given an address of 2955 Dauphin Street and was being run by Emil and his wife, Marie, as well as their two sons, Emil Jr. and George, and their daughter Marie. The photograph above shows the interior of their well-organized dairy barn, which was surrounded by nearly 40 acres of pasture.

Emil Graf died at home in May of 1937, at the age of 60. The Mobile Register noted his passing on the front page and editorialized: “Mr. Graf was a member of the Rotary Club of Mobile and prominent in civic activities throughout the southern part of the state. He held the title of Alabama’s first Master Farmer.”

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Glass milk bottles from Graf’s Dairy serve as collectibles for many Mobilians.

His widow and sons managed day-to-day operations. Marie acted as bookkeeper. During World War II, their glass milk bottles sported patriotic messages and promoted the sale of war bonds. They marketed “Graf’s Dairy Superior Milk,” which was offered either pasteurized or “raw.”

From Farms to Subdivisions

The occupations of the residents living in the vicinity of Graf’s Dairy were almost universally tied to farming in the 1920 and 1930 federal census records. Following World War II, Mobile began its westward march, and by the 1950s, housing developments arrived, followed by a growing number of shopping centers. In the 1970s, Dauphin Street was extended to intersect with I-65, bringing even more traffic to the once tranquil area.

By that time, Mobilians, like most Americans, were buying their milk at the neighborhood grocery store. Soon, home delivery of milk became a thing of the past. The last listing for Graf’s Dairy appeared in the 1986 Mobile City directory, and Miss Marie Graf lived in the family home until her death in 2001. That house has since been demolished, and the fate of the former dairy pasture has yet to be determined.

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