Skinners' Dairy was a family-run dairy that existed in and around Jacksonville, Florida from the 1950s until the mid-1990s.
The family of Samuel Benjamin "Ben" Skinner operated a dairy farm on a portion of their vast land holdings in northeast Florida beginning in the early 1950s. During the late 50s the growing influence of grocery stores made it more difficult for small, independent dairies to remain financially solvent. The decision was made to build small freestanding "milk houses" in residential neighborhoods. These stores offered milk and other dairy products and they were ideally suited to replace the declining milk home delivery service. The first store was built in 1958 and the chain peaked in 1985 with 21 stores throughout northeastern Florida (19 in Jacksonville and two in St. Augustine).
Architectural design of stores
Created by the architectural firm of Hardwick & Lee, the Skinner's Milk Houses were thoughtfully designed and visually interesting structures that became an iconic presence throughout the Jacksonville area. Under their pitched "butterfly" roofs, each identical store was painted orange, grey, and white, incorporated a drive-through that could be approached from both sides, and used aluminum sliding glass doors which were a novelty at the time. The overhanging roof design also provided shelter for drive-through customers during north Florida's frequent rainstorms.
Skinner Dairy transitioned to new management in the mid-1980s. Under the new management a second wave of milk house construction began in 1987. For unknown reasons the modernist Hardwick & Lee design was replaced by a new design (architect unknown) which was pedestrian and forgettable. The location and quantity of buildings of the second series is unknown, but it is estimated that between one and two dozen were built from 1987-1995. Three stores built in 1987 are in Clay County.
The relatively short lifespan of the second series combined with their bland appearance occasionally leads to locals misremembering that these stores were built in the manner of the earlier Hardwick & Lee design.
The dairy was sold to Velda Farms in January 1996. The land that constituted the dairy headquarters and farm was a sizable piece of property located off Bowden Road on the city's south side. The land was redeveloped in 2000 as an office park known as "The Silos", a reference to the land's previous appearance and function. Yet what has endured the rapid population growth and environmental changes of the last 20 years are the iconic Skinners' Dairy "Milk Houses".
Today the former Skinners' Dairy stores exist as a curious and visually delightful link to the economic and social history of the region. As of December 2007, 16 of the original 21 stores still exist in one form or another, most with their distinctive roofs intact. They have been adapted to a variety of businesses. Current tenants include several drive-thru restaurants and sandwich shops, a bakery, a florist, a dry-cleaner, a coffee shop, golf instruction, and a truck bed liner installation business. Some adaptations required additions that did not preserve the original aesthetics. Five are presently in an original state or close to it.
In March 2008 the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens hosted a symposium titled Mid Century Modern Architecture in Jacksonville. The Hardwick & Lee Skinners Dairies were featured in the accompanying catalogue, which sampled the most significant architecture in Jacksonville, that has endured from that period.
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