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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

BRI seeks info, photos of county canneries
Exhibit at Ferrum College set for this fall
Click to Enlarge
Photo by Morris Stephenson: All of these labels were drawn by artists at Piedmont Label Co. in Bedford for local canneries.

Monday, July 28, 2014

By MORRIS STEPHENSON - Special to the News-Post

The Blue Ridge Institute (BRI) and Museum at Ferrum College is seeking information and photographs related to the canning factories that operated in Franklin County between 1900 and 1950.

There were numerous facilities in Franklin County where farm products were grown and canned before being shipped via rail throughout the country, according to Roddy Moore, BRI director.

"Canneries had to be the largest... ah, legal... industry in the county," he said.

Beth Worley, a Ferrum native, is a researcher working on the BRI's next exhibit, which is scheduled to open this fall. The daughter of Shirley and the late Bobby Worley is a graduate of Franklin County High School and Emory and Henry College. She received her master's degree from the University of Memphis.

Worley is sorting through boxes of packaged can labels from the archives of the Bedford's Piedmont Label Company for the exhibit. Most all of the labels are in good condition and many are truly works of art, she said.

"At one time, the label company had 35 artists on its staff who designed and painted the colorful labels for many canneries," Moore said.

The company produced labels for some of the leading companies from Franklin County to California and the Bahamas, Moore said. The BRI has plenty of artwork for the exhibit, but locating records of the county's canneries has been difficult.

"I hope there are records and old photographs still around that people will bring in to and get recorded to become part of the ever-growing BRI archives," he said.

Agriculture played a major role in the county with residents raising all types of vegetables and fruits, then taking them to a nearby cannery, Moore said. Tomatoes seemed to be a major cash crop for the county. Canned tomatoes were shipped across the nation by the boxcar loads.

Other vegetables canned in Franklin County included butter beans, string beans, table apples, sweet potatoes, apple sauce, sauerkraut and canned beef.

"I've got records of a load of blackberries being shipped to Atlanta, Ga.," Moore said.

The Roanoke and Southern Railroad, which later became Norfolk & Western, was the major hauler of Franklin County's farm products, Moore said. "Having a railroad crossing through Franklin County was a real asset."

"The first cannery I know about was Ikenberry and Sons in Rocky Mount in 1897," Moore said. "I'm telling you, back in those days, canneries formed a major industry in this county."

According to the BRI archives, 40 canneries were located in Franklin County in 1910.

Charlie Woods, an "authority" on canneries, said there were 10 canneries in operation at one time on Naff's Road, including Jack Garst, John Bernard, Dan Phelps and Burt James, Bill Guthrie, Harmon's, Wray & Son, Mills and Cummings.

Although the staff of the BRI is busy sorting through and filing thousands of canning labels, they are anxious to see what type of information and photographs they get from residents.

"Many interesting things are found when people start searching attics and old storage buildings," Moore said. "We would be very happy if people wanted to loan or donate, perhaps, something that has been passed down through the generations. But we can copy the original and return it the owner before they leave the building."

"I'm looking forward to seeing anything that relates to the canning industry," Worley added. "We welcome even the smallest item brought to us."

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