John J. Cullinane
Thomas & Company Cannery
East Diamond Avenue (MD 117), Gaithersburg, Montgomery County
The Thomas and Company Cannery is a one to two-story tall, free-standing, load-bearing brick rectangular structure composed of four discrete, structurally independent but contiguous elements, built between 1917 and 1918, with an addition constructed in 1956. The two-story easternmost portion of the building, known as the "shipping building," consists of two brick buildings, with a second floor originally supported by brick piers, now shored up with steel posts. The roofing is a single layer of corrugated steel decking which replaced the original metal pan roof. There is a gabled cupola over part of the western end of this portion of the building, originally installed to provide filtered natural light into the structure. Adjoining the western end of the shipping building is a single-story brick "processing building." Running the length of the roof is a gabled clerestory structure glazed on its north side with operable, louvered glass panels. This feature was designed to allow natural light to illuminate the processing and assembly operations of the cannery. Directly west of this portion of the building is the original one-story brick boiler house, which still contains the International Boiler Works machinery installed for the processing system. Corrugated metal also replaces the original metal pan roofing of this portion. Attached to the north elevation of the main processing building is a one-story brick building constructed c. 1956. On the interior, the brick walls are exposed throughout.
The Thomas and Company Cannery, which started operations in Gaithersburg in 1917, was the first and largest vegetable cannery in Montgomery County. Its opening provided this primarily agriculturally based region with an important local market for vegetables grown in and around Gaithersburg, with farmers coming from Buckeystown, Adamstown, Poolesville, Fairfax, and other areas. Prior to its construction, local farmer were required to truck produce, the major agricultural crop in the area, to markets in Baltimore and Washington. The Thomas cannery provided a much needed local market which would stimulate the local economy by reinvesting revenues within Gaithersburg and the immediate area. At the time of its construction, until well after World War II, the cannery was the primary employer in Gaithersburg, providing regular full and part-time employment for more than 200 people, and hundreds of additional jobs for migrant workers employed picking vegetables grown in the surrounding area. Until its closure in 1963 after fire damage, the factory remained the major employer in Gaithersburg and the primary market for locally grown produce. The factory canned peas, pumpkin, and corn, supplied both the local retail market and the war effort during World Wars I and II. During the war years the cannery expanded operations and functioned on a three-shift schedule to provide vegetables for shipment to troops. After the war, the cannery continued to produce vegetables under the brand names "MY-T-Nice," "Ever-Good," "Barbara Fritchie," and "On-Top" corn, peas, and succotash. The cannery represents very important local industrial development in Gaithersburg in the early part of this century, utilizing the abundant agricultural resources of Montgomery County and providing extensive employment for both migrant and permanent workers up until the factory's closing in 1963. It was the first industrial development in this rural, agriculturally based community and, until closing, the primary locally based industry.