Smokestack repair begins at Factory F

Dorchester Banner/Sylvia B. Windsor
Men worked on the iconic PPC smokestacks last week throwing down the deteriorating bricks from the one on the left. After taking down the deteriorating portion of the one on the righ the restoration will begin. The whole process is expected to take 80 days to complete. The inset in the right corner is a closeup of the workers.

CAMBRIDGE — No, unlike the Walls of Jericho, the iconic PPC smokestacks are not tumbling down, they are being repaired. Due to their age and deterioration, the bad parts are being taken off, but will be replaced to resemble the original structure.

The one on the left, has been relieved of its bad parts and the one on the right which is in worse shape will also have its bad bricks removed. But both will be restored with new dyed bricks.

After working here for three months on gutting Factory F on June 24, Structural Preservation Systems began long-awaited renovations to the two street-facing smokestacks of the former Phillips Packing Company’s “Factory F” (the last remaining factory of the Phillips empire) – the most visible reminder of the canning operation that once employed thousands in Cambridge.

Originally built in 1920 as a furniture factory, the building later became part of the Phillips Packing Company empire which employed thousands of people in Cambridge and Dorchester at its peak.

When brothers, Albanus Phillips and Levi Phillips, along with W. Grason Winterbottom established the Phillips Packing Company in 1902, they probably did not imagine that it would grow into a Phillips empire. Today, there are five restaurants along the East Coast, seafood packing plants all over the world and Phillips brand foods being sold in stores across the country – and it all started in Cambridge.

Packing Plant F, was the largest fruit cannery in the United States. Aside from fruit, it canned sweet potatoes, lima beans, white potatoes, and tomatoes. In fact, the tomato canning won Cambridge the nickname, “Tomato Capital of the World.”

During World Wars I and II, the packing company was the largest supplier of individual canned and pre-cooked meals, known as C-Rations in the country, and in World War II, employed approximately 1/4 of all of the 8,000 Cambridge residents. The plant also supplied foods to Admiral Richard Byrd, a friend of Albanus Phillips, for his Antarctic expeditions in the 1930s.

The Phillips company eventually expanded into trucking and oil, which further spurred economic growth in Cambridge. Packing Plant F was family-owned and run until 1956, when the company was sold to Consolidated Foods, now Sara Lee Corp.

Soon to be known as The Packing House, this 60,000 square foot warehouse (1.94 acres of land) has sat vacant and deteriorating for decades.

A revitalization project spearheaded by Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) and Baltimore’s Cross Street Partners, The Packing House will become an active, mixed use facility designed to support the emerging industries related to the Eastern Shore’s famed farming and fisheries.

The Packing House will house a synergistic mix of tech and creative entrepreneurs, food production and food related retail/eateries as well as a two-story, light-filled open atrium space for continuous public programs and private events.

The revitalization project aims to support and grow regional economic opportunities connected to agriculture, aquaculture, environmental technologies, and tourism – all of which make up the leading industries of the Eastern Shore.

“We are elated to share the start of the smokestack restoration,” shares ESLC’s Katie Parks. “Through funding support from the Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Cross Street Partners, and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, the long-awaited restoration ensures that this historic viewshed will be preserved.”

Margaret Norfleet-Neff, vice president of Conservation Development Partner/Cross Street Partners, said “The Packing House will serve as a connection between the growing downtown revitalization in Cambridge and the well-traveled Route 50/Ocean Gateway to Maryland, Delaware and Virginia beaches.”

The repair and stabilization of the iconic 90’ smokestacks, scheduled to take approximately 80 days to complete, is “Phase 1” of the renovation project. Due to the fragile condition of the smokestacks, the project’s development team selected Structural Preservation Systems to complete the restoration – a firm recognized as the industry leader in developing innovative repair solutions for historical structures and the most challenging problems.

To remain up to date with the progress of The Packing House revitalization project, or for more information about the Phillips Packing Company and its historical significance within the Cambridge community, please visit thepackinghousecambridge.com.

NOTE: Due to safety concerns please stay outside of the marked area. There will be a future press conference scheduled. In the meantime, do not hesitate to send any questions to the contacts: Katie Parks at kparks@eslc.org, 410-690-4603 x155 or Margaret Norfleet-Neff at mnorfleet-neff@crossstpartners.com, 336-240-8374.

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit land conservation organization committed to preserving and sustaining the vibrant communities of the Eastern Shore and the lands and waters that connect them. More at www.eslc.org.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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