What made the trip so enjoyable was the scenery along the way. If it were spring, the dogwoods would be in bloom, and for two weeks in early April it looked as though it had snowed. As you came down the hill at the William Johnson home place near the bridge, the meadow opened up through which the creek lazily passed. It was a lovely meadow with weeping trees and poplars as well as dogwoods along the banks of the stream. Next came the pasture land spread out before you for the cows to graze during the day. At early morning after milking, there were approximately 125 to 150 cows that were coaxed to cross the road so that they might feed for the day. In the evening the cows made the return trip across the road to be milked and back to their barns.
Miss Mabel Ballentine oversaw the operations of the dairy during the forties, fifties and into the sixties. Her brother, Lt. Governor L. Y. Ballentine, was away in Raleigh taking care of the necessary duties of his office there. He later added other duties as he became Commissioner of Agriculture. Miss Mabel always had something in bloom along the road as we passed the dairy. Crepe Myrtles lined the fences on both sides of the road. Farther along the banks of the road, yellow daffodils popped up everywhere and were a welcome sight in early spring. It was reminiscent of William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils”--(not quite ten thousand, but close.) The whole area was pastoral and beautiful. To a child it looked the perfect place to explore and romp as the fields and woods were tempting and inviting. There were times when you could tour the large shelters where the cows were milked and watch the milking machines in motion. My own children watched this operation take place in the seventies when we moved from town closer to the dairy. They were fascinated with the bottling machines as they filled bottles with milk and moved along the conveyors. All of this changed in the mid nineties. The U. S. Government offered “buy-out“ incentives to dairies to sell their herds. Since that time, Ballentine Dairy has ceased to exist. Ballentine Horse Riding Academy has taken its place.
When I was about fourteen, three of my friends and I decided to ride our bikes out to Ballentine Dairy Road. It was a typically warm April afternoon as we set out from Broad Street. At that time East Broad Street became an abrupt right turn about where Home Depot is located today. We then crossed the railroad, and entered onto the edge of Hwy. 401. Traveling east, it was about a mile and a half before we came to Ballentine Dairy Road on the left. We were happy to finally be on our way to the dairy and out of what little traffic there was on the highway. In the 1940’s Ballentine Dairy Road was unpaved, and very few cars traveled it. We were enjoying our bike ride as we pedaled the dirt road and came to the, then, wooden bridge at the foot of the hill. There was a large meadow and pasture to the right of the bridge. (Today it is a subdivision and school named Ballentine.)
There was a smaller meadow to the left of the bridge. We decided to turn left and follow the creek for a short distance. It was cool with shifting shadows strewn under the trees. We left our bikes behind and walked along the edge of the stream and sang. The song we sang was a popular one at the time. We all knew it and bellowed it out; “There’s a Tree in the Meadow with a Stream Drifting by…....” We were enjoying ourselves as teenagers do!
We had brought a picnic bag along, to share. It consisting of apples and peanut-butter crackers. We ate our snack as we rested by the brook. When we sat still enough, we could hear the trickling of the water as it passed by and went under the bridge and on to Johnson Pond not so very far away. With the knife used for slicing the apples, we began to carve our initials on the slick-bark poplar trees near-by. We even put a few “secret“ initials on the trees. We laughed and talked and threw stones into the water. We reveled in the freedom of the surroundings. As the shadows began to lengthen, and the sky began to turn a soft golden hue, we reluctantly left behind our perfect place where we had taken in the beauty of spring. We slowly headed back to our bikes. We began pedaling once again across the bridge and up Ballentine Dairy Road toward home.
The memory of that special afternoon comes to my mind often these days as I drive along Sunset Lake Road. So much has changed and continues to change since Ballentine Dairy Road became Sunset Lake Road. As I pass the bridge where all the trees have been cut and where the creek has been altered, I wonder what our children and grandchildren will miss that was so much a part of life a generation ago. I am glad a new bridge is being built, and that it will be widened to make travel safer for us all. But I will miss the trees and the meadows and the pastoral beauty that was once so prevalent in the area. I will miss the flowers, and I will miss the cows, but I will remember those who made it all possible. I will feel sad that my grandchildren will not have this perfect spot to take in the beauty of a distant spring.