This month marked the end of an era, and it’s unlikely many were even aware of it. The City of Delta tore down the old cannery building—in place since 1920—to make way for a new bypass route for Highway 50. KVNF’s Marty Durlin reports.
Fruit first put Delta County on the map at the 1893 world’s fair, winning 30 out of 40 first prizes. That led to a high demand for Delta County fruit across Colorado and even beyond. Jim Wetzel has been steeped in local history since he became director of the Delta Historical Museum 15 years ago. He takes pleasure in telling stories about the county’s early ventures into canning.
Farmers needed a place to process their fruit, most of it they sent to market, but the later fruit, the softer peaches or whatever, they had no market for, they just sat on the ground and rotted. Until there was a canning factory.
The first cannery was built in 1895 by Frank Sanders, whom Wetzel refers to as “Delta’s First Millionaire.” A partner in the Bachelor Mine, Sanders invested a great deal into the community, and was responsible for several buildings in Delta, including the bank and the two-story cannery in North Delta. The first cans were handmade at a tin shop in Delta. Wetzel is still awed by some of the early technology used.
They had a sauerkraut machine that shredded 2000 pounds of cabbage in 10 minutes. Pretty interesting. I’ve looked at that statistic and thought, how did they get power to it? There was no electricity in Delta at that time. Either by gas-driven motor or something of that sort, perhaps water power because they were near canals.
The first factory fell victim to ownership disputes and the economy, and the building disappeared long ago. But the need to preserve local fruits and vegetables remained, so a consortium of businessmen put together a new factory, which opened in 1920.
The canning factory had 176 windows in the roof, a lot of glass, a lot of light. They didn’t use electricity so much for the lighting as for the equipment. That first year they processed over 690,000 cans of food. Most of that went to western slope towns, a lot went to other areas in Colorado, probably the front range.
Wetzel says the construction of the railroad helped farmers get their product to market or the cannery easier, without having to go all the way to Delta.
They would simply meet the train in Paonia or Payne’s siding, just right there at Redlands Mesa, that’s where they would load the train in boxes, crates.
During the second world war, the cannery operated at maximum capacity, preparing food for army bases around the country. Wetzel says the cannery helped soldiers in another way, too.
Soldiers were writing back home, that things that had been shipped to them were arriving wet, with salt water. So the canning factory provided tin cans to the local citizens who then could pack food or toothpaste, and they took it to the canning factory and they put a lid on it, waterproof. And that solved that problem.
The canning factory employed anywhere from 30 to 300 people in its working days, using the Town Talk and Kuner Empson labels. It closed in 1964, victim of the same economic problems as the earlier cannery. For a while it was used for onion storage, but in recent years the building sat empty at the south end of Delta.
The nearly 100-year-old building was recently torn down to make way for a new bypass for Highway 50. Now, a heap of enormous cement chunks is all that remains. A former storage building still stands, roofless and surrounded by weeds, by the railroad tracks.