Bethel Cannery from Year to Year (1945-1976)
During this year of operation, the cannery at Bethel served an atypical use. A rat problem surfaced in Haywood County, and County Agent Wayne Corpening and a crew of helpers decided to use the canneries as the first step in the bait production process. County workers ground 2,100 pounds of fish at the cannery at Bethel, mixed in 275 pounds of poison, 600 pounds of rolled oats, and 180 pounds of corn meal, with enough water to make over two tons of rat bait. (Hopefully, the poison mixing process portion of the protocol occurred outside of the cannery). The procedure kept workers making the preparation up until 2 a.m. The toxic concoction served the needs of Canton, Hazelwood, and Waynesville townships as workers spread the poison around businesses, residential buildings, schools, and on farms. The Waynesville Mountaineer article was careful to add that if chickens or cats ate the mixture that it was not life-threatening to those animals. (The Waynesville Mountaineer – Friday, January 17, 1947)
An October 1947 news article revealed much information about the history of the cannery program in Haywood County as well as some informative statistics. The original plan was for five canneries – one at each school. By 1947, only Waynesville and Bethel were in operation with Crabtree in the works. County Board of Education Chair, R.T. Messer, was instrumental in pushing the cannery program which began in the winter of 1944 as a continuum of the gardening, drying, and canning classes. Officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided technical assistance toward planning and equipping the plant. Vocational agricultural and home economics leaders at the State Department of Education, along with county residents, pushed the concept.
At this point, canneries were self-supporting, adding new equipment and new patrons each year. Below is a list of patronage and product at the Bethel cannery that opened by June and closed by mid-October.
The usual can sizes used by patrons were pints, quarts, and gallons. The article also listed can sizes as #2 (2 ½ cups), #3 (4 ¼ cups), and #10 (13 cups). There is no mention as to whether cans were metal or glass.
While most of the patrons at the facility were women, a canning class for veterans resulted in several men participating. Even the male Haywood County School Board Chair and School Superintendent were regulars at the canneries.
A large portion of the canned food was taken home by patrons. However, in 1947, the lunchrooms benefitted to the tune of 225 bushels of beans and 2,437-quart cans of food. Seventeen of the nineteen schools had cafeteria service for students. At all facilities, all students were allowed to eat, whether they could pay or not, and the names of those who could not pay remained private. (The Waynesville Mountaineer – Monday, October 3, 1949)
In 1949, Fines Creek School is listed as the location of the Fines Creek cannery – the fourth cannery in the county that was operated by the school system. Bethel, Crabtree, and Waynesville canneries also provided a convenient location for homemakers to process farm garden supplies. (The Waynesville Mountaineer, Monday, July 4, 1949)
The Waynesville Mountaineer featured Pigeon Valley (Bethel) in a full-page story. The West Pigeon Community Organization officers and members outline ambitious goals for Bethel. A photograph of Bethel Cannery filled with workers was included. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Monday, August 6, 1951)
Anticipation was that 32,000 to 36,000 pounds of produce would be processed through the Bethel Cannery in 1952, exceeding the 26,000 pounds handled at the facility in 1951. The cannery season ended in October. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Thursday, September 18, 1952)
A summary of the history of canneries in North Carolina, and Haywood County in particular, bemoans the fact that once abundant numbers of canneries in the state had dwindled to such a degree that only one county, Haywood, had more than one operating cannery. The first Haywood County cannery was in Waynesville. Later, the county developed three other facilities at Bethel, Crabtree, and Fines Creek. During the 1954 season, housewives canned more than 100,000 units of fruits and vegetables, with the most popular product being apple sauce. In 1955, however, green beans led the parade of canned products. There was no charge for using cannery facilities other than for the cost of the cans: pint cans were 7 cents, quart cans were 9 cents, and gallon cans were 20 cents.
An accompanying photograph outlined the steps in the canning process: a large number of cans were placed in a mechanical hoist, cans went through the exhaust tunnel, cans received a lid and were sealed, cans were stamped, cans went into the retort for cooking, cans were cooled. Photo reproduction is hazy, but the cans appear to be made of metal rather than glass. Beans required 25 minutes of cooking time while corn needed an hour.
Originally built with federal funds, the canneries were, by 1955, self-supporting. Clients at the cannery did their own work except for cooking and sealing which was handled by hired personnel. Homegrown crops provided the bulk of the canning material, but the U.S. government and local vocational agriculture departments in the county school system also supplied food items. On a particular Tuesday, 25 women canned 1,411 cans of food at Waynesville, with 3,073 cans processed there by July. Cannery supervisors listed were Mrs. Rufus Siler of Waynesville, M.C. Nix of Bethel, and B.F. Nesbitt (location unreadable) (The Waynesville Mountaineer – Thursday, July 28, 1955)
|Year Canned||Number of Patrons||Number of Pints|
|1947 (by August)||175||20,118|