Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Smith Canning Factory


Pictured: Smith's Sorghum Mill

From the Gazette-News: January 2, 1903
     The News is pleased to present to the public this week a photo engraving of Smith's Sorghum Mill, which is located one mile north of Bunker Hill and is one of the good institutions of this city.  The Smith Brothers, (Haney V. and Edward) are energetic and popular and have succeeded in drawing a large trade in their line to Bunker Hill.  Not being content with their large output of sorghum each year, they have established a canning factory in connection and each season ship thousands of cans of tomatoes.

By H. V. Smith

     During the Civil War, after the railroads and the lower part of the Mississippi river became blockaded, the northern central states in a great measure were cut off from their supply of sugar and molasses from the plantations of the south.  Then it was that our lawmakers, as has always been the case in every emergency which this nation has passed, came to the rescue of the people, and the bureau of agriculture, learning that over in the Celestial Empire there existed a sugar producing plant (called in the Chinese language Sargo), they had imported into this country vast quantities of seed, which was sent out broadcast among the farmers through the mails in small packages, containing about a teaspoon full.  This was planted and the seed saved for planting the next year.  Then commenced one of the greatest eras of molasses making in North Central and Western states that probably ever was known in the history of any nation on earth.  In nearly every molasses making in North Central and Western states that probably ever was known in the history of any nation on earth.  In nearly every community was found a sorghum mill.

     The means of manufacture at first was very primitive and crude.  The farmer would procure a solid oak log and cut it about three feet lengths, and with the assistance of a carpenter would dress them to a smooth round surface, and on the upper end would cut huge wooden cogs.  To the end of one of the rollers projecting above the cogs would be morticed a crooked pole or sweep.  The rolls would be fixed in a strong wooden frame and to the end of the sweep would be hitched a horse, and the machine would be ready for grinding.  The farmer would often arise long before daylight and commence pressing the cane, making the early hours of the morning hideous with the creaking, groaning and howling of the wooden logs as their un-oiled surfaces came in contact, disturbing the peaceful dreams of his neighbors for about a mile around.

     For evaporating the juice he would take two pine planks, six or eight feet long and twelve inches deep, to which he would nail on a sheet iron bottom turned up at the ends.  This would be set on two brick walls with a stove pipe at the back end for a chimney.  In this pan would be poured the raw juice from the mill, the fire started, and the result generally would be a black , scorched, sweet-bitter conglomeration called sorghum.

     But soon improved methods of manufacture came into use.  the wooden mill was supplanted by the iron mill; the simple pan gave way to a succession of pans, one above the other, the juice running from the mill into the first pan and after skimming and boiling, on down to two or three into the finishing pan.  Also clarifying agencies, such as eggs and soda were used.  Then came the steam mill with the two story building, the juice being pumped up into the upper story, where it is defecated and purified by the clay process and settled before passing down to the finishing evaporators, thereby eliminating that raw vegetable taste so common in unpurified syrup.  By this process of manufacture, the sorghum cane will produce a grade of syrup equal to the New Orleans or Sugar House, and in some respects superior, because it is more dense and contains all the sugar, while the Sugar House is but the residue after the sugar has been extracted.

Pictured: Smith's Canning Factory

From the Gazette-News: October 20, 1905
     Smith Brothers have filled about 50,000 cans of tomatoes this season and are through with their work for the year.  The brothers have decided to quit the cannery business.  They have made money but the work does not appeal to them.  It is likely that some citizen will lease the cannery from them and operate it under the Smith Brothers labels for their goods have a great reputation in the neighboring cities.

The Smith Brothers cannery was located where Mrs. Bess Forwood's home used to be.  This property belonged to Mrs. Forwood's grandparents about 170 years ago.  This was once known as Bird Hill.  Mrs. Forwood's uncle Edward owned the home previous to Mrs. Forwood.  When Bess Forwood died at the age of 102, the property went to her grandson John Stephenson.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories here at

--Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, March 2, 2017.

Stanton, Carl L. . "Bunker Hill News 1903." In Bunker Hill Revisited, Volume Four, 1901-1910, pp. 33-34, 118. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 2003. Provided by the Bunker Hill Historical Society.