Kuner Empson Cannery
15 3rd Avenue
Landmark Designation: 1983
National Register: 1983
Construction Date: ca. 1903
Architectural Style: Factory
The building and the neighboring buildings now destroyed or deteriorated
beyond rehabilitation, housed what was once claimed to be the largest pea
canning factory in the world. It was built, owned and operated by prominent
Longmont pioneers. During the 90 some years the cannery operated, it provided
a significant market for area farms and employment for many area residents.
The building was constructed by owner John Howard Empson, Empson Packing
Company. Empson started the Empson Packing Company in 1887 with the object
of packing in tin cans vegetables produced on Longmont area farms. Empson
came to Colorado from Cincinnati, Ohio in 1880 with his young daughter, Lida,
because of poor health. He opened a candy store in Denver in 1883, but continuing
in poor health led to his spending a year near Estes Park, reportedly spending
much time with Rocky Mountain National Park pioneer Enos Mills. With his health
restored, he came to Longmont to build the first cannery structure. Fire destroyed
the first cannery in 1891, but it was rebuilt and expanded over the years.
Empson built canning factories similar to the Longmont plant in Greeley, Loveland
and Ft. Lupton. Vegetable and fruit receiving stations were located in Berthoud,
Johnstown, Ault, Hygiene and Mead.
John Empson was prominent in many areas of Longmont's early life. He was
a master at public relations and gained wide attention to himself and Longmont
through various schemes including patent confrontations, transcontinental
exhibition tours of a giant silver kettle used in the canning process and
donating pumpkins for Longmont's early "Pumpkin Pie Day" celebrations.
In 1920, the Empson Packing Company was sold to a group of prominent Longmonters.
Mr. Empson stated, "It is the largest business deal ever made in northern
Colorado. It is the transfer of controlling interest in a business having
a value of approximately one million dollars..." The purchasing group
in turn sold stock to local business persons and farmers.
On May 1, 1927, the Empson Packing Company was merged with the Kuner Pickle
Company of Brighton, Colorado and became the Kuner-Empson Company. The Kuner
Pickle Company had been founded in 1864 by another Colorado pioneer, Max Kuner,
and his grandson, Karl Kuner Mayer, became president of the merged firm.
In 1960, controlling interest of Kuner-Empson Company was purchased by out-of-state
interests (the Stokelys of Stokely-VanCamp) and the days of the cannery as
part of Longmont's business and community life were numbered.
The canning business was finally closed down in 1970, primarily because of
obsolete equipment and an open sewer system which violated pollution standards.
Today, the building is a successful apartment complex and is an excellent
example of the reuse and rehabilitation of a historic structure.