Carter’s Farm on Intervale Road was part of the corn canning industry in Bethel. Rose Lincoln/Citizen Photos

(The conclusion of “Bethel’s canned corn industry”.)

BETHEL — A kernel of Bethel’s history was sown in today’s Modern Barn at 19 Summer Street.

In the building that is now home to the upscale restaurant there was once a thriving corn canning factory that kept Bethel’s farmers busy and prosperous from 1880 until 1926.

Sardines out

In 1880, Wolff & Reessing (W&R) opened a canned corn factory in Bethel. But before they arrived, they tried their hand at the booming coastal sardine industry. In 1876, the New York importers opened the first of 18 sardine canning factories in the Eastport area, eventually failing as weir fisherman fought to keep their canneries independent and the intense competition kept prices low.



Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s corn farming was mostly successful but sometimes a volatile industry, too.

1881: The industry experienced a set back when John Winslow Jones and his company failed.  Writes Frederic, “Jones’ liabilities amounted to $340, 000 and was considered to be the largest bankruptcy in Maine up to 1881.

September 6, 1881: The corn factory was reported to have, “commenced operations and the corn is very good. They employ about one hundred hands and expect it will take six weeks to can the corn, after which they propose to can beef and mutton until December.”

June 1884: The Oxford Democrat reported that 100 acres of corn had been planted for the Bethel Corn Factory. Its April 7, 1885 edition reported that the canning company Wolff and Reessing will spend $4,000 on improved machinery. Farmers will receive two and one-half cents per 26 oz. can of corn.

“Steam powered mechanized corn cob strippers cut the corn off the cob and filled cans in one operation. The corn factory paid $7,000 to 170 farmers. The average pay per acre was $35. Farmers from Gilead, Mason, West Bethel, Mayville, South and East Bethel, Newry and Albany made up the pool of corn suppliers.

The White Mountain Brand label was the last corn canning identity used by the Bethel business of Fritz Tyler (1873-1964). He had the reputation of a go-getter and an innovative, industrious person. Tyler Street in Bethel, which connects Chapman and Vernon Streets, is named for him. Submitted

1887: The canning factory was approximately one and one-half miles from the Grand Trunk Railway depot in Bethel. Charles L. Davis used two teams of horses to haul corn from the corn factory to the freight cars at the rail depot. His teams made eight trips.


1886 through 1889: “The only local name connected to the corn factory [during those years] was Augustus Mellen (A.M. – Gus) Carter who was 49 in 1889,” said William Lapham, writing in his 1891 History of Bethel, Maine. Carter was a farmer and civil engineer who lived in the Carter neighborhood of Middle Interval (Bethel). Lapham refers to Carter as the “superintendent of corn packing establishment in Bethel.”

The Carter family continues to farm on Middle Intervale Road in Bethel.

1888: A very poor year for sweet corn – the last year for Wolff & Reesing in Bethel.

1889: The Wyman Brothers of Millbridge, Maine buy Wolff & Reesing’s canning factory that employed 60 men and women; this number increased to about 100 as the month wore on. Near the end of September, the corn factory ran out of cans and telegraphed for an emergency shipment of 68,000 cans from Massachusetts.

December 9, 1889: At a special town meeting in Bethel they voted to appropriate $2500 to be used for buying a lot and building a new corn shop. A lot of land has been bargained for of Eli Barker, northerly of the railroad but westerly of and near to the chair factory. [This is on or near Cross Street].

1890: Maine‘s Constitution‘s Home Rule section encouraged towns to appropriate money for industrial buildings to foster economic growth. Bethel built a new corn factory building near the rail depot. Papers reported: – “Mr. Wyman, our sweet corn man, is taking down the old corn factory (located on the former Eber Clough property west of Mill Brook) and is having it moved together with the machinery to its new location near the depot, where the town owns about two acres of land and is to build on it a corn factory building with the $2,500 raised for that purpose. – Donald G. Bennett, The Bethel Journals


“By mid March, several carloads of lumber from the Berlin Mills Company (Berlin, New Hampshire) had been landed on the site of the new corn factory; the Town of Bethel had a strong crew at work putting in the foundations which were nearly ready; framing had begun. There was real sense of urgency by all concerned. Besides the new building, the Wyman‘s work crew was putting up sections of the old building and getting the machinery ready. Also, they were building an ice house and stocking it with ice.

“At the same time as this was going on, the Bethel Water Company had over 100 men at work building a pipeline from Chapman Brook to the village for public water supply. One of the first large customers for pure water was the corn factory.” – Bethel Journals

September 1890: Grover Hill, Middle Interval, and Newry report that a number of men from each location have employment at the Bethel corn canning factory. Overall, the factory reports about 150 hands employed. Officials of the Grand Trunk Railway stopped for an hour in Bethel and visited the corn factory and the chair factory. On the 22nd, the paper reported that the Wymans are putting up about 33,000 cans a day. (In October, it was reported that the best day‘s output was 32,000 cans.)

1891: The Bethel corn factory closed its season on September 29th. The factory filled 300,000 cans; claimed to be the best year since the company had started operations in Bethel.  The Wyman Bros. are shipping their sweet corn as fast as they can label and pack it into boxes.

October 9, 1891: The Oxford Democrat reported that the Wymans had finished and paid the town $150 in rent.

May 1893: Herbert Lord of Waterford had assumed the manager‘s job. When the canning season began in September the factory expected a heavy yield and reported hiring 150 hands. In the last week of September, the can count had reached 250,000 with record 32,000 cans put up in one day. But at the end of the season, owner Wyman noted that in Bethel the season produced about three fourths of an average good year‘s crop.


May 13 1917: According to the Citizen: “F.J. Tyler Leases the corn shop. A special town meeting was held last Saturday ( April 28, 1917) with but a few present. Mr. Paul C. Thurston was chosen moderator and then Mr. Tyler stated his proposition. It was voted to lease the corn factory property to F. J. Tyler for a term of three years at $50 per year, with the right of renewal at the end of three years at a rental to be then agreed upon. Mr. Tyler will begin repairs at once and also the installation of machinery. About sixty acres of corn have been pledged and it is expected that enough more will come in to make it seventy-five. A good early seed has been secured and all may be assured of a square deal.

The farmers should give Mr. Tyler hearty support and plant some sweet corn, if only
half an acre, for it may mean the running of the corn factory more that in the corn season. Why would not the canning of peas, string beans, beets, apples, etc., be possible here?”

Sept. 26, 1905: The Oxford Democrat reported, “the corn factory has nearly finished picking as a large quantity of corn was injured by the frost. Work has been rushed since the frost of Friday morning.”

1917 – 1926: Fritz Tyler operated the canning plant from 1917 until 1926 when the business closed.

1929: Fritz Tyler transferred title of the canning factory property to his name from company ownership.

Frederic writes that corn canning in Maine slowed substantially during the Great Depression, and increased competition from other parts of the country ensured that the industry would never fully recover.


After playing a major economic role in the state for nearly a century, Maine’s corn canning industry had all but vanished by the late 1960s, said Frederic.


Modern Barn co-owner, Jessica Stasinos said she finds it amazing they they were able to move their two and a half story, 3,000 square foot building up from Cross Street to Summer Street.

When the Stasinos’ bought the building four years ago they had to level the floor because the corner where there was a dance floor was eight inches lower than the entryway floor.

The original post and beam was not insulated either. They spent two weeks trying to fill the holes, “You could actually see outside,” she said.

Today’s Modern Barn often serves Mexican street corn in the summer made from Ed Swain’s Bethel harvest. This Autumn they will offer corn and speck, too.

Modern Barn is open Tuesday through Saturday 4 p.m to 9 p.m.

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