Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Cannery Train Track Supports In Lewisburg

The concrete supports that held up elevated railroad tracks are all that remain of the Cannery Building (original built for Lewisburg Plastics) that stood here for nearly 40 years between 1935 and "sometime soon after the 72 flood"

"Who remembers Bull Run and the Susquehanna running RED with tomato skins from the cannery every Fall ?"  "I used to pick tomatoes on the east side of the river for $.25 a Bushel."  

"During the off season we would build huts with the straw bales that were stored in the cannery. We had a blast. I remember seeing the ladies hand peeling those thousands of tomatoes every day. I loved hanging out there."

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Lewisburg Plastic Co. built a manufacturing operation at North 6th street and Cherry Alley in 1935.  The company went bankrupt in 1938.  When the building was constructed, they built a portion of it on J.M. Kunkel's land.  When T.P. Hiland leased the building in 1942, he worked out an arrangement to lease the land from Mr Kunkel as well, with an option to purchase both the former plastics building, and the Kunkel land.


Above is the only photo I've been able to locate of the cannery. An early newspaper article gave this description: The building was 60 feet wide by 200 feet long, constructed of concrete blocks with steel window sashes and a steel roof.  The office section was two stories high, and the shipping room, which connected with the Penna R.R., was also two stories high.  

The Tomato Cannery

In 1942, T.P. Hillard opened a tomato cannery in the plastics manufacturing building.  From then on, the building would be referred to as Hilards Cannery, although he sold it  in 1948.


July 16, 1942
"Lease Taken on Lewisburg Plant, County Resident Plans to Convert Building Into Cannery.
 Thomas P. Hilands, of West Chillisquaque Township, Northumberland County, yesterday negotiated a long-term lease on the Lewisburg Manufacturing Company plant at Lewisburg, and plans to convert the industry into a cannery. Hilands, a widely known trucker and operator of a rendering plant near Montandon, said after signing the lease, that machinery for the cannery is being constructed at Baltimore, Md., under federal priorities and will be installed in the proposed cannery within the next two or three weeks. The new cannery sponsor has 80 acres of tomatoes planted near Montandon and will can the entire crop for the government. He will purchase tomatoes and other farm produce from area farmers during late summer and early fall. He plans to start the enterprise on a small basis and develop it into a major enterprise by next spring. The federal government some months ago urged growing and canning of more tomatoes and other vegetables for use by the armed forces, and it was on the basis of this appeal that Hilands decided to take over the plant of the former Lewisburg Plastics Company, thrown into bankruptcy several years ago."

An advertisement in September 1943 offered work to 30 girls or women, to peel tomatoes.  Daily, free, bus service would be provided from Laurel Park, Glen Iron, Laurelton, Hartelton, Millmont, and Mifflinburg.  In 1944 Hilands advertised that he was looking for tomato growers on contract.  "Will pay $27 cash field run per ton delivered."  He offered two plant transplanters for the growers convenience.


T.P. Hilands, who "operated on a small scale", sold to the Mouton firm, who expanded the facilities.  In September of 1948, Mounton employed 120, and received tomatoes from 140 acres under contract with Union County Growers. By 1949, the Moulton firm purchased the Myers firm, and became the Myers Canning Company.

Peas, as well as tomatoes, were sometimes processed in the Lewisburg building.  


The Daily Item reported in September of 1950 that 30 inmates at the Laurelton Center were engaged in picking tomatoes for Hilands Cannery.  The girls averaged 10,000 to 12,000 baskets daily.  "Working under a basket fee basis, the inmates are able to earn funds which go into their personal accounts."
There as a labor shortage in 1950.  Both the Hilands Cannery in Lewisburg and the Land O'Sky Cannery in West Milton needed 50 additional women on the tomato peeling lines.  

In July of 1956, The Le Mor Foods Inc. leased the former Hilard Cannery, to process concentrated fruit juices.



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LOCAL RECOLLECTIONS
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From The "You're Probably From Lewisburg" facebook group, I gleaned the following additional tidbits about the cannery:

"The canned water was from a civil defense contract, I remember them in the building."
"We use to play inside when we were younger. It must have closed suddenly, because there was a lot of cans inside. We sometimes opened one and drank it. It tasted like metal."

"I remember sliding down a wooden conveyor from the rr tracks"

"When my family and I moved into our 610 Market Street home my brother and I enjoyed adventure in our new back yard....the cannery place - one day my brother and his friend cracked the code and got the old safe open! We were hoping for Gold!"


I can still remember Market St. running red with tomato juice in the summer on the way through town, and it smelling so awful for weeks!

Directly behind the Town Tavern was an "apartment" building, it kind of looked like a double house except there were at least four doors and a big front porch, behind that building, in the field between there and Danny Green field (west of the railroad tracks), was the cannery.


Charlies Bait Shop  in East Lewisburg & TheMynah bird
"Rich Gearhart was asked not to frequent Charlie's, anymore. Seems that on all of his weekly bike rides from Lewisburg, where he collected garter snakes in the cannery ruins to sell to Charlie, he'd quietly teach the mynah some new "colorful" language. After scrutinizing his normal customers, he realized that Rich was the bird's voice coach. Rich and the bird had to go"

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July 16, 1942
Lease Taken on Lewisburg Plant County Resident Plans to Convert Building Into Cannery Thomas P. Hilands, of West Chillisquaque Township, Northumberland County, yesterday negotiated a long-term lease on the Lewisburg Manufacturing Company plant at Lewisburg, and plans to convert the industry into a cannery. Hilands, a widely known trucker and operator of a rendering plant near Montandon, said after signing the lease, that machinery for the cannery is being constructed at Baltimore, Md., under federal priorities and will be installed in the proposed cannery within the next two or three weeks. The new cannery sponsor has 80 acres of tomatoes planted near Montandon and will can the entire crop for the government. He will purchase tomatoes and other farm produce from area farmers during late summer and early fall. He plans to start the enterprise on a small basis and develop it into a major enterprise by next spring. The federal government some months ago urged growing and canning of more tomatoes and other vegetables for use by the armed forces, and it was on the basis of this appeal that Hilands decided to take over the plant of the former Lewisburg Plastics Company, thrown into bankruptcy several years ago.


Hilands purchased the Clinger farm, 240 acres near Pottsgrove, in January of 1947.  The farm had been in the Daniel J. Clinger family for three generations.
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A homeless man lived in the cannery for a couple of years.

21 Apr 1951








"These are the concrete piers, which curved from the west to the south, adjoining the east-west (crossing Rt.15 at PA. House factory / current rail trail) to the north-south railroad lines ( parallel to Rt.15, behind Dunkin' Donuts then south, thru town to parallel the river). To the left was the old cannery. In the background is Roller Mills (the former Buffalo Mills, then Purina Chows on St. Mary St.).   If you notice, the north-south and east-west railroad lines were on higher surfaces. The man-made curvature that adjoins the tracks was elevated, via concrete piers, then tied together with, I'm assuming, a wooden trestle (the horizontals). It could have been a steel trestle, but I never remember any remaining pieces. Wood trestles are easily discarded, while steel usually leaves a trace. Bull Run (originally called Limestone Run) did a man-made split around the current Rt. 15. A separate mill race made a long sweeping curve, then was used to power Buffalo Mills (Roller Mills), using water power for turning the grinding millstones. The railroad line eventually was raised, and the mill race was filled in, leaving a singular Limestone Run (later renamed Bull Run). By then, steam engines could be used to power the millstones (two stones, circular turning, thus grinding the grain)." - Paul Matrey 




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