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Orestes, Indiana History

Tomato Processing

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David Dwiggins

orestescanningco1913.jpg
Davis Canning Co Orestes 1913 - Old Kent Hotel Blg

Tomato Canning History in Orestes

Information was acquired from the Alexandria Times Tribune and the Charles Davis Family History.


Company Dates Owners

Located on South First Street originally and now East Oak Street (same location)

Orestes Canning Co 1913 - 1914 Charles Davis & Beecher Youngs

Orestes Canning Co 1914 - 1922 Charles Davis & Frank Davis

Orestes Canning Co 1922 - 1934 Clarence J. Palmer, Chas DeHority and Geo DeHority

Orestes Canning Co 1934 - 1941 Operation was idle Palmer, DeHority & DeHority

Orestes Canning Co 1941 - 1947 Grover Hutcherson

Orestes Canning Co 1947 - 1970 Reichart Family, Ernie, Fran, Brian, Gary, Tina

Red Gold Inc. 1970 Reichart Family, Ernie, Fran, Brian, Gary, Tina


Located about one half mile north of Orestes on Madison County Rd 300 West on the east side of the road.

WB Gordon Canning Co 1920 - 1931 W.B. Gordon

Brunson Canning Co 1931 - 1950 Shirl Brunson, Doyle Brunson

Brunson Canning Co Inc. 1950 - 1956 Shirl Brunson, Doyle Brunson


Located west of the Orestes Grain Elevator along the railroad


Davis Canning Co. 1924 - ?

Information is not certain but in all probability the Davis Cannery was sold to Shirl Brunson and the date is uncertain.

The Union Traction Company had constructed an interurban line which first run to Alexandria January 18, 1898, and began to connect many sizeable cities and towns throughout Central Indiana. The independent Elwood & Alexandria Railway started operation June 26, 1899, and brought a convenient method of delivering vegetables to local markets. The interurbans made frequent stops and could stop and go quickly, a tremendous advantage over steam rail service which had trouble meeting schedules as it was.

As early as the spring of 1912 Orestes and area farmers of Monroe Township planted tomatoes in their fields for the purpose of canning. Orestes did not have a cannery yet but an entry in the Alexandria Times Tribune dated July 1, 1912, indicated farmers had planted lots of plants. Work is progressing nicely on the new coal bins at the elevator and area farmers have planted tomatoes for the canning factory this season.

We do not know what canning factory for sure they were contracted or planted for since the Orestes operation did not start till the next year. We also do not know how many years local farmers had been planting tomatoes for canning. Another entry in the Tribune dated September 2, 1914 revealed:

Between eighty and ninety thousand pounds of tomatoes raised by Monroe township farmers are being shipped from the Snider weigh-in station at the sub-station of the Indiana Union Traction Company daily by George Dwiggins, who has charge of the Alexandria shipments. The tomato crop this year promises to beat that of last year. Large flat cars on the Indiana traction line are used to ship the crated tomatoes to Marion, Indiana, where the canning season is at its height. As fast as the crates are unloaded at the Marion factory, they are shipped back to Alexandria. A continual line of farm wagons leading to the sideboards can be seen at the sub-station at almost every hour of the day.

October 13, 1914 Alexandria Times Tribune

A large farm wagon heavily laden with crated tomatoes upset on the Orestes-Elwood pike yesterday afternoon and the driver was thrown to the ground. Traffic on the road was blocked until the large wagon could be pulled to the side of the road.

The first frosts usually come the first or second week in October and the tomatoes stil in the fields have damage. No doubt this wagon was loaded since a frost had just occurred or was about to happen.

These entries explain that despite the Orestes Canning Company commencing their pioneer canning business in 1913, many of the local farmers had contracts or gentleman agreements with the Marion Canning Factory. In mid December 1914 it was rumored that Alexandria might get a canning factory. The factory probably wasnt ready until 1916 if construction started immediate. We can conclude from this that township farmers had been involved with tomato planting for canning operations as early as 1912 and perhaps as early as 1904.

Mulford Muff Davis kindly offered this following information from the family history in which his father and Uncle Charles Davis were early canning pioneers in Monroe Township.

1913 My father Charles Davis entered a partnership with Beecher Youngs in a pioneer cannery operation named the Orestes Canning Company. Operations began in the old Kent Hotel saloon at the present location of the Red Gold operation in east Orestes. They canned tomatoes, ketchup, apple sauce, and pumpkin. The business was new and much of the operation was experimental since very few canning operations existed. The following year Mr. Young sold his interest in the business to the brother of Charles, Francis M. Davis. Prior to this Francis had engaged in farming northwest of Orestes.

We had a 1913 Detroiter. It was one of the first cars in town and Dad would loan this to people for funerals and the family would ride in it.

In 1918 the government came along and said we want you to put out extra tomatoes and have a bigger pack to support the war effort in World War I, and so they did. They borrowed money, hired the extra farmers, bought the cans, got the pack all made up. We canned the tomatoes, labeled them and shipped them east to go overseas to the war. The war ended November 11, 1918 and the government didnt want them over there. In those days the government wouldnt assume the responsibilities of paying for them as they would now, so we couldnt afford to ship them back so they froze on the docks along the east coast ands we lost all that. That was a hardship.

The tornado hit Orestes April 17, 1922, and the plans were for the factory to be rebuilt. I was born in 1922 so I dont remember much about this. Im also not certain if we ran the pack in 1922. If Raymond was alive we could ask him but we never thought to ask.

Before the pack in 1922 we borrowed $600 from Robinson Lumber Company in Alexandria to rebuild after the tornado and get ready for the pack. We had a new boiler and must have been two because there were two new smokestacks. There was only one boiler in the old one. Anyway we couldnt make the payment and Robinsons foreclosed and we had to declare bankruptcy. When they sued other companies then started suing too. The $600 was what broke the back of the Davis Canning Company. That was big money then. It was after this that we built a smaller factory in the western part of town.

I remember the business burned one time, well into the night. I dont know whether Grover Hutcherson had that then or not. I think someone else had it before Grover bought it.

We built another new factory in Orestes west of the Orestes grain elevator next to the railroad. I dont know how many years we ran that. Im pretty sure they sold to the Brunsons but Im not sure. Im old enough to remember walking back there and walking through that tomato factory. It was a nice little factory built right west of the elevator right behind the Devine property. You could access the factory from a small road or alley near Devines property or go through the grain elevator roads.

The new owners of the Orestes Canning Company needed to borrow money in June before their first pack in 1923. The cost of placing the factory back in order after the tornado was a big one.

From 1915 to the 1920s the canning business continued to grow with businesses sprouting throughout the area. Alexandria, Hobbs, Elwood, Summitville, Rigdon, Gilman, Frankton all had canning facilities. The Orestes factory had the majority of the local business while the Davis family continued to operate their new factory rebounding from their hardships.

September 10, 1913 W.B. Gordon purchased the land of Osceola located a few miles north of Orestes and the town became a piece of history. Gordon, a local farmer absorbed the land on which the town is located and turned it into farm pastures wiping the village from the map..

Gordon built a canning facility in 1920 and operated a small factory. Shirl Brunson signed a one year lease under the ownership of Gordon for the 1930 pack. Friday night October 10, 1930, about 11:30 pm, the Gordon canning factory burned with a loss of buildings, machinery and 3,000 cases of tomatoes. Shirl acquired the plant and it became the Brunson packing plant but did not operate in 1931.

The Orestes Canning Company announced in May 1931 that they had contracted about 160 acres as a result of having been able to dispose of nearly all the 1930 inventory.

Fire again hit as the Orestes Canning Company was almost completely destroyed by fire March 22, 1934. The plant was valued at $20,000 and the owner, Clarence J. Palmer announced that plans were to rebuild the structure. Charles DeHority and George DeHority of Elwood were also part owners. A night watchman was generally on duty but none was scheduled at the time. The fire department was also hampered by a limited supply of water and high winds.

September 17, 1935 marked the beginning of a legal suit as Frasiers Canning Company of Alexandria claimed the Brunson Canning Factory had possession of 5,000 of their tomato crates. Both companies made statements claiming that the crates were theirs. Brunsons was said to have contracted from the same farm one year earlier at a time when the crates were mixed. Fraziers claimed that the crates are theirs and had the company initials on them. The plaintiffs failed to appear when the suit was to be heard.

Meanwhile November 28, 1938, Doyle Brunson, formerly of Orestes and manager of a canning factory in Scottsburg was sentenced to serve 30 days after receiving a guilty verdict in Southern Indiana. Brunson purchased a canning factory at Vienna and placed the contracted tomatoes in a warehouse outside the state. He left Vienna according to reports after making only partial payments to some of the growers. Controversy seemed to follow the Brunson businesses.

Each year without fail, the Brunson packing plant would advertise expecting a banner year and for applicants to apply for work. July 27, 1942, a wartime signup was held at the Knights of Pythias Lodge Hall in Orestes.

On August 8, 1948, the Brunson Canning Company issued its first appeal for women to peel, sort and trim, tomatoes when the season got into full swing. Officials of the company said that free transportation will be furnished to all women desiring to work and that a bus route would be announced later.

A trial run of 500 hampers of tomatoes was run August 2, 1949 as the machinery was tested for the regular run starting the 11th. The Brunson Canning Company projected to have a five to six week run employing about 300 workers. An official spokesman claimed the company had contracted 300 acres of tomatoes. The season started a week to ten days earlier due to good growing conditions.

April 5, 1950, an announcement was made of the incorporation of the 30 year old Brunson Canning Company. Papers were filed with the state and Madison County indicating that the firm would be known as the Brunson Canning Company Incorporated and that Shirl R. Brunson of Anderson was president of the firm and his brother Doyle was the secretary-treasurer. The company purchased all assets of the older company which employed 175 during the canning season 1949. The plant packed tomatoes and tomato juice.

July 1950, Announcement was made by Doyle Brunson, president of the Brunson Canning Company in Orestes, that all machinery in the plant had been completely serviced for immediate use. Other important plans at the plant, in view of the war threat situation, includes was setting up at the canning plant of a complete civilian defense program. Mr. Brunson said army and navy personnel available at the plant will be in charge of the program on defense. President Brunson announced that Mrs. Zettie Smith, Scotts Addition, has been named head floor lady for the season. It was also announced by Brunson that the company has purchased controlling stock in the Kennard Canning Company, located near Middletown , in Henry county.

John Frazier was the managing owner of Frazier Fine Foods Company in Alexandria, said 50 are employed at his factory for the 1951 season.

October 10, 1951, the Wann Tomato Cannery was destroyed by fire in Frankton.

Mr. & Mrs. Doyle Brunson directors of the Brunson Canning Company announced in mid July 1952, that all new machinery had been installed in their factory and it is in the progress of being modernized for the first run which is expected in this area around the first of August. Brunsons expected to employ 135. Acreage was larger than in previous years and all canneries expected a record pack. Weather conditions slowed the packs of the Orestes canneries and that the products had been poor. Managers of the Orestes Canning Company, Mr. & Mrs. Ernest Reichart stated that employment varied from 150 to 300 on the payroll. Both plants started early.

In 1953 the Orestes Canning was the only one to operate in the area and was forced to shut down the plant due to the infection of this army worm. In just one day he was forced to turn away 30 tons of infected tomatoes. In spite of the early closing a fairly good run of tomatoes was made.

August 22, 1954 the Wann Canning Company burned again and damages were estimated at $100,000 at canning plant leveled by fire at Frankton. Owners claimed the factory would again be rebuilt.

March 6, 1956, a wind-driven fire of unknown origin, started at the Brunson Canning Company north of Orestes about 3:00 p.m. Fire departments from Orestes, Alexandria, Summitville, and Elwood fought the blaze for over three hours. Some merchandise and fertilizer was saved but loses were estimated at $105,000. Owner, Doyle Brunson was reportedly working on the roof repairing some shingles that had blown off in the previous weeks thunderstorm, when the fire was first noticed. 15,000 gallons of water was used to put out the fire and the Alexandria tanker filled up four times. Orestes Fire Chief, Vern Horlander, stated that faulty wiring would be a probable cause. The canning company was founded in 1931 and employed 200 persons. This report confuses matters even more since Brunson Company had claimed earlier that the company had been founded in 1920. The next day the fire would officially be listed as cause unknown as were most of the Brunson fires. Shirl R. Brunson 77, a retired farmer and former owner of the Brunson firm died at his home north of Orestes. A little more than two months later fire destroyed the Brunson Estate just north of highway 28, cause unknown.

Red Gold Gallery - Indianapolis Star