The current Tomato Factory Antiques Center on Somerset Street in Hopewell was indeed once a tomato cannery, which operated from 1892 to around 1950. (See the previous post for stories of the factory during World War II.)
We’ve just posted an extensive history brief on the history of the Tomato Factory and the canning business for your reading pleasure. Some of the highlights are illustrated and summarized here. See the brief for much more.
== View Tomato Factory History Brief (PDF) ==
We would welcome more information and especially photos on the Tomato Factory from over the years. Do you have cans or labels or other mementos of this history?
Canning Company Artifacts
Thanks to Mary Ann Browning, who started the Tomato Factory Antiques Center in 1964, we have some fun artifacts of the original Hopewell Valley Canning Company.
The images include a blank 1892 stock certificate and several can labels, including a tomato juice label with the Hopewell Valley Canning Company name in addition to the product name.
These also is a World War I crate marked “U.S.Q.M. Corps, Nov. 1918” – for the United States Quartermaster Corps, which was the military unit responsible for feeding and supplying the troops.
== View Tomato Factory images (Image Gallery) ==
Tomato Factory Highlights
The Tomato Factory building operated as a canning company for almost 60 years, from 1892 to around 1950, through four different companies. The current Antiques Center opened in 1964.
- 1892 – 1937 – Hopewell Valley Canning Company (some 45 years, though WW I and the Great Depression)
- 1938 – 1943 – Quarryville Canning Company (into WW II)
- 1943 – 1947 – Urban Food Company (WW II)
- 1947 – 1951 – Hopewell Sun Packing Company
- 1950s – Reynold Dansberry – Sub-contract work for Rockwell Manufacturing Co.
- 1962 – Mary Ann and Maurice Browning – Tomato Factory Antiques Center
The pace of the canning business was astounding. The factory only operated when there were fresh tomatoes being harvested, so the factory only ran for around six weeks a year, from early August through September, or until the first frost. The factory could pack 10,000 quart cans a day, and since each can required 5 or more tomatoes, it needed 50,000 tomatoes delivered each day, arriving from some 100 acres of local farms under contract for its business.
Keeping the business running at full speed required some 50 to 75 employees, the majority “women and girls,” especially skilled at quickly manually peeling the skins off the tomatoes, and hand-packing the cans to fill them to the top. Canning also used machines for washing and scalding the tomatoes to prepare them for peeling, to solder the tops on the cans, and to cook the canned tomatoes.
The Tomato Factory Building
The current Tomato Factory building is a conglomeration of multiple structures added over time.
The original pair of buildings run south to north, from Somerset Street towards the railroad tracks. The wider front building was used for packing and storing, and the narrower rear building for canning. A single-story rear annex also extends out the back towards the train tracks.
The east side facing the driveway has a side platform used for receiving tomatoes, which is now enclosed. The small building next to the east side along the entrance and parking lot was the office, with the ground scales between it and the main building for weighing incoming crates.
The west side has the boiler room and saw several additions, some now gone.
Inside the Canning Factory
A 1910 article in the Trenton Evening Times describes the business in glowing terms:
It would be difficult to picture a more animated scene than that at the factory of the Hopewell Valley Canning Company, where the packing season is at its height. All day long millions of red tomatoes are carried to the Hopewell plant and in a brief time are sealed in cans ready for the New York market which takes the entire output through advances contract.
During one season at the factory turned out 290,000 cans and is able to reach a daily average of 10,000 cans. Visitors from all parts of the village and country call to witness the operatives work and the happy social conversations that take place give no suggestion of the tension that exists in modern places of toil. One could imagine from the sight that a church committee was getting ready to hold a supper.
Amid pleasant surroundings the employees work with wondrous rapidity. Most of them are experts and have attained remarkable skill with the knife. One of the number has a record for peeling three hundred and thirty quarts of tomatoes in a day.