Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront History: Fruit and Vegetable Processing

© Photographed May 28, 2015
Erected 2007 by City of Sturgeon Bay and
Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
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Sturgeom Bay's Waterfront History
Fruit and Vegetable Processing
Soon after the Reynolds sawmill closed in 1894, a newly formed Reynolds Preserving Company operated one of the earliest canning factories in Wisconsin at the site of the former "Upper Mill". Pea growing became very successful during the 1890's and by 1916 fifty percent of the Wisconsin pea crop was grown in Door County. However, around 1911, because of problems with blight and other plagues associated with pea growing, the company started converting their pea land and timber land to cherry orchards. In 1917 the final pack was processed and the pea canning factory was closed.

Shortly afterward, as cherry orchards filled the countryside, Reynolds sold the factory to a newly formed cooperative of which they would become a member. By 1933 the organization evolved into the Fruit Growers Cooperative, the world's largest cherry canning factory, which packed and marketed Door County's red tart cherries nationwide.

The cherry harvest would begin in early July and continue into August. Long lines of trucks would wait their turn, often well into the night, to unload cherries at the factory. Sometimes those liners would wind over a mile from the factory  here at the bay, over to Michigan Street extending as far as 14th Avenue. During the 1940's and 1950's, the heyday of cherry production in  Door County, the Fruit Growers Cooperative would process over a million pounds of cherries a day, both hot pack (canned) and cold pack (to be frozen) employing many seasonal workers.

By the mid-1960's several factors led to a decline in cherry production in Door County, including a larger Michigan crop that influenced the market price and minimum wage laws that led to higher harvesting costs. The Fruit Growers Cooperative factory was acquired by Peterson Builders and was demolished in 1966 to make way for the expanding shipyard.
The marker is located on Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront at Graham Park, and is accessible from the westernmost end of Pennsylvania Street, west of its intersection with Qunicy Street, at or near 10 Pennsylvania Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin 54235.

NOTE: Graham Park consists of 1.2 acres between Oregon Street Bridge and Pennsylvania Street and was the former PBI Shipyard site. The creation of the waterfront park is a key part of the redevelopment efforts for the former shipyard area.

Looking east, at the marker location.

Are you standing over cherry pits? Hans Dresler deals with a mountain of cherry pits at the Fruit Growers Co-op in the 19___'. Over the years the pits were buried, dumped into the Bay, used for pig feed, and packaged as a barbecue additive. A former _____ even tried to make them into a beauty cream!
This map shows the extent of the land owned by Reynolds Preserving Company during its peak around 1915. Although not all of the Reynolds' properties were used for canning, it demonstrates the great influence the company had on the waterfront during this period. Original street names are shown with modern names in parentheses.
Women working on the sorting table culling out bruised or damaged cherries.
ca. 1940
These barrels are half-filled with cherries, floated with water, some powdered _____, and sulfur dioxide. They are curing in the sun as part of the bleaching process necessary to make maraschino cherries.
An aerial view of the Fruit Growers Corporation, circa 1940, shows its location along the Sturgeon Bay shore from Oregon Street to the Peterson Shipyard to the south.

This map shows the extent of land owned by the Frank Growers Cooperative during its peak around 1940. As the canning industry waned, the Fruit Growers Cooperative's lands were purchased by Peterson Builders, Inc. and Palmer Johnson Yachts and converted to shipbuilding uses.
Label from the Sturgeon Bay brand of cherries.
With the Oregon Street bridge visible in the background.

The marker is located at Graham Park.

Plenty of parking to access the marker.

The marker is located at Sturgeon Bay's Historic Downtown Waterfront.

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