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Title Baxters Corn Shop
Accession # 1974.02.0811
Description Information about Baxters Corn Shop, which was originally located in Lovell Village. Located in the file category "Businesses".
The following is taken from the Fall 2013 Newsletter article written by Catherine Stone:
The sweet corn industry proliferated in Western Maine beginning in the 1880s. The harvest season was brief, but the closeness of the fields to the canneries helped guarantee a high quality product. Corn fields were usually within ten miles of the canneries, allowing for a brief time between the picking and the canning of the corn.
Canning corn became a successful specialized commercial crop and by 1891 H.C. Baxter & Brother Company of Portland built corn canneries in Fryeburg, Conway, Denmark, and Lovell. The Lovell cannery opened for business on August 31, 1891 and was in the Village just south of the Route 5 and 93 intersections, on the West bank of Kezar River.
Lovell’s cannery hired hundreds of seasonal workers for a few weeks a year. On September 13, 1900, the Lewiston Evening Journal reported on this activity. The article follows:
On busiest days there are easily four hundred people engaged in the various processes of canning. Everybody in the neighborhood turns out to take his share in a labor which is profitable, if short. The actual work of canning the corn is all done within a fortnight.
What impresses one most is the Anglo-Saxon freedom and absence of red tape about the whole process. In the great factories of the cities the “help” are hedged in with all sorts of rules and regulations. Here they move about with absolutely no restrictions. There is abundant jollity and good fellowship. The affair is distinctly social as well as commercial.
One especially feels this air of sociability among the groups of corn-huskers. They seem to have a holiday task. Working under open sheds in groups of about twenty, they gossip and exchange “jollies” all the while they are deftly stripping the husks from the ears.
They have to keep busy to make anything at this part of the process. The huskers are all paid at the rate of four cents a bushel. This means a very small day’s wage to the average worker. One who can do forty bushels a day is considered very speedy. A great many children and elderly people are engaged at this; the able-bodied men and young women are generally drafted into the factory proper.
There one finds less of the picnic aspect, though the utmost freedom still prevails. The corn goes through an interesting process of cutting, straining and mixing with milk. Finally it pours out of a narrow pipe at the bottom of a big cylinder and falls into the cans which are one by one pushed up to it. The cans go to the solderers and then are passed on to the inspector, who weeds out for further soldering those that are defective and sends the perfect cans into the boiler room to be cooked. There they are held for minutes in steam boilers until, with a great explosion of steam, they are drawn out into the open air to be played upon with streams of cold water. The rest of the process is one of labeling, packing and storing.
All the heavier part of this work is, of course, in the hands of men. Although this job comes to them only once a year, they appear to handle it with great deftness. Like most New England farmers they are very handy. They are also well informed about every detail of the business. There is no minute subdivision of labor here; every man is competent to work in any part of the shop.
A great innovation this year is the canning of succotash. This is the first time corn and beans have been put up together at the Lovell shop. The company is making an effort to can all its succotash from green beans and not, as is generally done, from the dried bean raised in Italy. None of the farmers in this immediate neighborhood have as yet raised the Lima bean, but they are watching with great interest the experiments made in Conway, NH, whence the consignment of bean pods for this season’s use came.
A good example of Yankee ingenuity was seen when the first load of Lima beans arrived at the Lovell shop. Nobody had ever handled them before, and everybody supposed that they would have to be shelled by hand. The foreman of the husking department, however, thought otherwise. He sent home for his wife’s clothes wringer and discovered in it a machine perfectly adapted to shelling beans. Within half an hour three other wringers were brought into use and beans enough for 10,000 cans of succotash were shelled in a single day.
Lovell’s corn cannery remained in the Village until it was taken down and moved to a site near Fryeburg Harbor. Unfortunately, the reason for this move has been inaccurately reported ever since Pauline Moore mentioned a legend as a possible explanation in Blueberries and Pusley Weed: A Story of Lovell, Maine (1970): “The story is told that one year, about 1917, Mr. Baxter flew into a rage at the sight of his tax bill and swore that he would never process another can of corn in the town of Lovell. He leased some land on the road to North Fryeburg and built a new corn shop of considerable size and value. When the lines were drawn, as they were periodically, he discovered that this, too, was in Lovell.”
Since Moore mentioned this possible explanation for the corn shop move, it has taken on a life of its own. On January 20, 1988, a North Conway Reporter article by Steve Smith titled “Corn Shop Days Remembered” repeated the story as historical fact. In 2002, a book by Paul B. Frederic titled Canning Gold: Northern New England’s Sweet Corn Industry: A Historical Geography cited the news article and expanded on the story. Frederic wrote that the Fryeburg Town Clerk reported the relocated shop in Fryeburg and the author then decided that for the purposes of his study, it would be considered a Fryeburg corn shop.
Based upon Lovell tax records, Lovell town columns, and the H.C. Baxter Canning account books the following can be stated. The corn shop moved from the Village to a location close to Fryeburg Harbor in 1909. The move from the Village was not to avoid Lovell taxes. There were no significant tax increases during this time period and the company seemed well aware that the new corn shop location was in Lovell. It should be mentioned that when Moore wrote about the corn shop move, she gave a more probable reason for the relocation – “the new site was nearer the source of supply, which was the Harbor area where the corn was being produced in great quantities”.
The Lovell corn shop at the Harbor closed in 1926, at a time when Maine’s corn canning industry was beginning to decline. For thirty-five years, the Baxter’s canning business, under their subsidiary Snowflake Canning, had provided seasonal employment for many of Lovell’s residents.
Subjects Business enterprises
Object Name Records