From the pages of the Bassett and Henry County Journal on 23rd of April 1953, “Deputy Sheriff J. B. Hanby said today that the Patrick County Canning Company, in the downtown section of Stuart, was broken into sometime during the weekend and seven or eight hundred pounds of sugar was stolen. The robbery was not discovered until late Monday afternoon. The sugar, in one-hundred-pound bags, was valued at $72.00, Hanby said he was told by George Cristall, manager and president of the company. The officer said that entry was made through a rear window and the sugar was apparently taken out through a double door. The window and the door were closed by the thieves.” I can’t possibly imagine what anyone would do with that much sugar! (wink)
George Cristall was born on the second of May 1896 in Mitrovon, Greece. In May of 1911, he boarded The Argentina, a ship on the Austria-America ship line and departed for New York, New York. Cristall arrived on Ellis Island the second day of June 1911. In April of 1923, Cristall became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.
Two years later, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Cristall married Miss Elsie Panagrodon, who was also a Greek immigrant from the North Aegean Sea area. Tragically, Elsie and their newborn baby died the following year in 1926. Cristall married again that year to another young lady from Greece, Miss Violet Rekata. The couple had two sons, James born in 1927 and Jack born in 1929.
According to the Martinsville business directory, Cristall worked as a merchant in Martinsville until 1941, when he established the Stuart Cannery (registered as Patrick County Canning Company) in the old railroad depot. Cristall continued operations in the old building until he constructed a new building on the same site in 1945. The enterprise, which canned apples, tomatoes, blackberries, and other local produce, employed roughly fifty workers, including my Dad who worked there briefly when he returned from serving overseas in the U.S. Army.
Suzanne Hutchens told me that her husband, Larry, his siblings, and mother used to pick blackberries to sell to the Stuart Cannery. His Dad would also collect berries picked by the neighbors and deliver them to the cannery. Mr. Hutchens was able to get a few extra gas ration stamps in order to make the “berry runs.”
The Stuart Cannery provided one of the first opportunities for women to work outside the home too. Mike and Opal Williams said that Virginia Williams used to work at the cannery. In an interview by Tootsie Cassell, Lizzie Pack worked at the Stuart Cannery for fourteen years while putting both of her daughters through school.
In an interview by Jackie Love, Rosie Goins Pack worked at the Stuart Cannery too. Pack stated, “I’ve never seen as many canned apples in my whole life. I worked for old man George Cristall and his two boys, Jimmy and Bully. I don’t know his real name. They called him Bully. I peeled the apples and got them ready for canning; then they’d bake them and can them. They were really good. They shipped them all over.
Tootsie Cassell also interviewed Ada Smart who reported that when she worked at the Stuart Cannery, she earned .40 cents an hour. Folks traveled up and down the mountain to work at the cannery too, including Muriel Shelor Wood and Gaye Belcher Edwards.
The Stuart Cannery closed in 1960 and the building was later used by Brent Watkins for his business, Stuart Glass. George Cristall passed away in 1968 at the age of 74. Thank you to Mike and Opal Williams and Suzanne Hutchens for information for this article.
Woody may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (276) 692-9626.