H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company began operations in Hartland in 1913 and for nearly 5 decades provided numerous full-time and seasonal jobs at its processing plant on Pleasant Street. Baxter also provided hundreds more jobs in the fields of surrounding area farms all over the region where farmers and workers alike provided the company with raw vegetables.
H. C. Baxter & Brothers Original Canning Factory – 1917
Undoubtedly, the existence of a local Maine Central Railroad line connecting to the rest of the country was at least one of the major contributing factors in H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company locating their new plant in Hartland. Baxter Canning would become one of Hartland’s largest commercial users of the line shipping millions of pounds of vegetable products via train from their plant located on Outer Pleasant Street. Baxter eventually had a private connecting side rail built which was 666′ long and capable of holding 5 freight cars seen below.
H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – c1930
Many of the details of H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company history are from the archives at Fogler Library, University of Maine at Orono.
“H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company was founded in 1887 by Hartley C. Baxter of Brunswick, Maine. His brothers James P. Baxter, Jr, and Rupert H. Baxter soon became partners in the business. Their father, James P. Baxter, Sr of Portland, Maine, was one of the pioneer vegetable canners in the United States, starting the firm Davis & Baxter Company in 1850. H. C. Baxter & Brothers were also pioneers in canning corn and had several plants in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. In the 1920’s the firm was enlarged to include John L. Baxter, a son of Hartley C. Baxter, and Bruce H. M. White and F. Webster Browne, sons-in-law of the other two brothers.”
“In an effort to expand its business the company began to can peas, string beans and whole kernel corn in 1923 with these operations centered in Hartland where a large plant had been opened in 1913. In the 1930s it began to produce frozen vegetables for the Birds Eye Company and also became interested in potato processing.”
H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – Hartland Plant c1937
H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – Hartland Plant 1945
Parking at H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – Hartland Plant
“During late summer and early fall of the early 1920s, loads of corn were brought in by horse drawn hay racks and farm wagons and dumped in great heaps under a large shed at the Baxter Brothers Canning Company facility in St. Albans. Men and women from St. Albans worked husking the corn and could easily make $2 a day at the height of the season. It was a matter of amusement for the locals that some of the corn was put in cans with an S. S. Pierce can labeled “Superior” and other corn was put in cans with a Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company label, though both were the same product.” (Courtesy of St. Albans Historical Society)
St. Albans Corn Factory (Photo courtesy of St. Albans Historical Society)
St. Albans Corn Factory (Photo courtesy of St. Albans Historical Society)
A box labeled “Baxter’s Finest Fancy Maine Sugar Peas” was found at the former Furbush House on Pleasant Street
Baxter’s Sugar Peas Box (Photo courtesy of John Hikel)
“In the winter of 1942, H. C. Baxter Company was awarded a contract by the U. S. Army and the Hartland plant began producing dehydrated potatoes (a process which had never been done before) for the troops in WWII. It was the first company in the East to produce dehydrated potatoes for use in World War II. Using Olaf Pierson’s newly invented continuous steam peeler along with a continuous belt dehydrator, the operation operated during the potato season of November to May, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from 1942 until 1945 when the war ended. It was the lowest cost and most successful producer in the East and many more dehydration plants around the country were designed from it. Over 6 million pounds of diced dehydrated potatoes were produced at the Hartland plant and shipped to the Army & Navy by war’s end; enough to fill 10 miles of railroad cars.”
Potato Peeling Line at Baxter’s 1940s. Included in photo are Enzer Lewis, Lillian Towle, Annie Hewes, Vera Furbush & Don Hollister.
During World War II, German Prisoners of War were used for labor at the Baxter Canning plant. They were housed at the Bradford Farm in Palmyra and transported daily by bus to the plant to work according to Doug Robinson in his report of the History of Irving Tanning Company.
Once the war ended and the POWs were returned, more help was needed as noted in this July 24, 1946 Lewiston Evening Journal article, “Locals are getting acquainted with 150 imported Canadians who will help at the canning plant in Hartland and who are housed at the Bradford Farm building in Palmyra.”
One of many canned products produced by H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company were their Shelled Beans.
Baxter’s Canned Shelled Beans (Donated by _____ _____)
Article on H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – August 11, 1949
“After the war, the company processed canned whole potatoes but also began to develop a process to produce quick-frozen french fried potatoes. Olof P. Pierson (1906-1993), a native of Caribou, Maine was a United Nations consultant and inventor of frozen french fries. He developed the frozen french fry at the H. C. Baxter laboratory in Hartland in 1945. Initial production was done on a small scale at the Hartland plant but in 1947, John L. Baxter, Jr, grandson of the company’s founder, directed the building of a plant in Corinna solely to produce french fries for a fast-growing market.”
“After the installation of new machinery and a building to hold the equipment, the first commercially frozen fries were produced for Bird’s Eye Foods at the newly refitted Snowflake plant in Corinna beginning January 20, 1947. As a U.N. consultant, Pierson traveled to Poland, Brazil, Greece, Sweden and Canada to help with potato processing, machinery selection and plant design”
It shall be noted the claim of “inventing” frozen french fries remains an ongoing debate to this day with some crediting its invention to Ray L. Dunlap, a Chemist for the J. R. Simplot Company of Declo, Idaho, who later also very successfully commercialized french fries in frozen form. The people of Hartland, of course, faithfully stand by our claim to fame in the story of frozen french fries…whether it be fact or fiction!
Baxter’s Finest “QUIFFPO” (Quick Frozen French Fried Potato)
In 1954, Baxter’s received a contract to produce instant mashed potatoes for the Borden Company however by 1955 all the Borden brand product processes were carried out at the Snow Flake plant in Corinna.
Newspaper Photo – February 26, 1955
By 1958, the Baxter plant in Hartland was still active in canning and dehydrating operations branded as “Baxter’s Finest” while the Snow Flake Canning Company specialized in the manufacturing of frozen products branded as “Snow Flake”.
“Snow Flake Canning Company” & “Baxter’s Finest” Brands
By the early 1960s, the company felt vegetable canning and freezing processes in New England could no longer compete with other areas of the country and its vegetable processing operations ceased and it became solely a potato processor. John Baxter, Jr. became President & General Manager and the home office in Brunswick was closed. The Hartland facility was closed in 1961 and all company operations were centralized at the plant in Corinna.
In 1965 Snow Flake Canning merged with Lamb-Weston, Inc., a food processor based in Portland, Oregon. The Corinna plant burned to the ground in 1968 and ceased business. Lamb-Weston became part of Con-Agra Foods Specialty Potato Products and has no plants in Maine.
A biography of Hartley C. Baxter was included in “Maine Biographies” by Harrie B. Coe – Published 1928
Hartley C. Baxter Biography
Following the closure of its facility in Hartland in 1961, the H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company plant buildings and property were purchased by the Irving Tanning Company as an Annex for its Main Street operations. For several more decades, many functions of the tannery’s operations were transferred here including final trimming and shipping of their finished leather product.
Former H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company Plant operating as an Annex of Irving Tanning Company c1962
The Annex was eventually closed and sat abandoned for several years before being sold to a private owner.
The abandoned former H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Plant
Calvin & Lori (Hewins) Warner eventually purchased the property & buildings with plans to rejuvenate and rename the entire lot as “Calsway” in honor of their deceased son, Calvin Chester Warren. Sadly, Mr. Warner passed away in April of 2020.
Following their purchase, the Warners had the remaining structures of the former Baxter Canning Plant & Tannery Annex taken down in a controlled burn performed and photographed by the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department on November 26, 2017.
November 26, 2017
It was a humbling end to a long chapter in Hartland’s history. One of the only few remains of its past is this beautiful and very large mural which hung in the Employee Break Room at H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company and was recently donated to the Hartland Historical Society.
H. C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company – Break Room Mural