Peanut Crossing History
REDEVELOPMENT FROM INDUSTRIAL TO MIXED-USE
The Peanut Crossing project is being redeveloped by Echelon Resources, an experienced development team with a long history of success with adaptive reuse projects. This project utilizes both federal and Virginia historic rehabilitation tax credits which require that any significant historic features be preserved and highlighted. The project plans will be reviewed in detail by both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service, with regards to compliance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Project delivery of Phase 1 is expected in Late Spring/Early Summer 2021, with many more phases following. For more information and tours, please Contact Us.
The Suffolk Peanut Company constitutes what is likely the largest and most intact historic peanut processing complex in Virginia. The Suffolk Peanut Company was the first successful peanut company in the region and many of the resources in the current complex date to within a few years of the founding of the company in 1898. The warehouses and processing buildings represent the full range of functions historically associated with the site and result in a property with a high degree of integrity and significance. The Suffolk Peanut Company is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. It meets Criterion A for Industry as a rare intact peanut processing facility and representative of an industry which once dominated the economy of southeast Virginia. It meets Criterion A for Transportation with the two pronged railroad spur and long loading dock abutting the historic Norfolk & Western railroad line. Finally, it is eligible for Criterion C as an outstanding example of an intact peanut processing facility with numerous early resources with strong integrity. The period of significance runs from 1903, the date of the earliest extant resource, to 1968 when the facility was sold to Goldkist ending its link to the historically-important Suffolk Peanut Company.
WHO AND WHAT
John Y. King and Colonel John B. Pinner formed the Suffolk Peanut Company on January 20, 1898 with $5,000 invested by each partner and $2,000 in citizen subscriptions. Pinner, an attorney and realtor, initiated the creation of the company and was its first president. King was invited to be his partner because of King’s experience running a small peanut cleaning plant in Windsor. It was the first peanut business in Suffolk to be successful after the Farmers Alliance of Nansemond County opened the first peanut cleaning, grading, and shelling mill in 1890, which soon failed. This was the beginning of what would eventually make Suffolk the largest peanut market in the world, the “Peanut Capital.” The company initially leased an abandoned cotton mill before building their first plant in 1903 along the vital Norfolk & Western railroad tracks. King used a new approach to marketing by establishing a network of motivated salesmen to take his peanuts to outlets across the country, as well as Canada and Mexico. The company was also the first to ship a jobber car load of raw peanuts. King left the company in 1908 to form the John King Peanut Co., and was replaced by A.T. Holland. A larger mill was constructed in 1909 along with several warehouses. By 1915 the company employed 2-300 workers and 15 office staff and produced up to ten train car loads of Virginia and Spanish peanuts each day. The mill burned in September 1931 and was replaced by the current mill building which opened on March 14, 1932. As late as 1958 the Suffolk Peanut Company facility was called the best equipped single unit mill in the entire industry. It had the highest capacity and was as fireproof as was possible at the time. John Pinner died in 1938 and he was succeeded by his son.
In 1900 the Bain Peanut Company of Wakefield opened a large plant in Suffolk followed by Lummis and Company the same year. As happened later with the Suffolk Peanut Company, both of these early competitors saw fires destroy their initial facilities which had to be replaced. In 1904 the Columbian Peanut Company opened a facility in Suffolk. Other companies soon arrived including Shoop-Withers Company, Holland and Lee Company, the Tidewater Brokerage Company, the Old Reliable Peanut Company; Pond Brothers Peanut Co., and in 1913 the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company, which contributed more than any company to Suffolk’s status as the Peanut Capital. At least eight more companies related to one or more aspects of peanut production opened in Suffolk by 1939. By the middle of the twentieth century, peanuts were the leading cash crop in Suffolk and the surrounding counties.
The first commercial production of peanuts in the United States is believed to have been accomplished by Dr. Matthew Harris near Waverly, Virginia in 1844. But it was after the Civil War that the peanut soared in popularity nationally. By the late nineteenth century the “Virginia peanut” had become the most popular type in the country. To improve marketing and profit peanuts also began to be graded: in 1877 peanuts were sold as fancy, prime, ordinary, and inferior. Buyers wanted uniformity in peanut purchases. Cleaning and shelling peanuts also improved marketability. Initially much of this was done by hand, often by African American workers, but much of the process was standardized and mechanized in large facilities, like the Suffolk Peanut Company. The peanuts would arrive onsite and be stored in a warehouse before being moved to hoppers to be graded by color and size. When ready for processing they would be moved to the mill, which was often five stories for each different machine in the process. First was the stemming machine which removed what the pickers has missed. Fans removed the stems as well as light nuts, with heavier ones continuing to the next floor. The next step are cylindrical drums which tumble the nuts to polish them, with the dust being suctioned out. They are separated by size and moved to a conveyor belt in the picking room where workers removed any faulty nuts or debris missed by the earlier steps.
The late nineteenth century began to see the creation of several hundred new uses for peanuts and their various parts, including peanut butter in 1904. Other products included various candies, soap, lubricating oil, oil for other food products, cosmetics, cooking, fertilizer, paints, flour for diabetics, hog feed, and wood preservers. Eight counties in southeast Virginia produced almost all of the state’s peanut crop thanks to demand, soil, and climate. Coupled with the eight northeastern North Carolina counties, the region became known as the “Virginia-Carolina peanut belt,” and Suffolk processed much of this production. By 1881 Virginia supplied a majority of the northeast peanut market. Ironically, it was Norfolk during the latter half of the nineteenth century which was the leading producer and was known as “Peanut City.” Being near the peanut farms and being the hub for six railroad lines which stretched to all areas of the region, helped Suffolk surpass Norfolk in peanut processing and easily export its products. By 1902 ten of the twenty factories in the country devoted to “cleaning, sorting, grading, and bleaching of peanuts” were located in southeast Virginia, particularly Suffolk.
Another factor in the rise of Suffolk in the peanut industry was the production of the Benthall Peanut Picker. This was the first successful commercial peanut threshing machine. It was invented by Jesse Thomas Benthall and Finton Finley Ferguson and patented in 1905. In 1906 Benthall opened the Benthall Machine Company in Suffolk to mass produce his new machine. Suffolk had become the epicenter of nearly all aspects of the peanut industry.
Today the Suffolk Peanut Company facility is the largest and most intact historic peanut processing plant remaining in Suffolk and the surrounding counties, and perhaps the state. The former Lummis Peanut Company plant constructed on East Washington Street in Suffolk in 1901 has several large processing buildings. Like Suffolk Peanut Company, it was also later owned by Goldkist and then the Golden Peanut Company. While it was one of the four largest peanut companies in Suffolk when it opened, it no longer retains the number and variety of building types present at the Suffolk Peanut Company site. Additionally, it did not play quite the same prominent role in the development of the peanut industry in the City of Suffolk. The Birdsong Peanuts processing plant, on the outskirts of downtown Suffolk, is comparable to The Suffolk Peanut Company is size, but with many of its historic resources either lost or modernized. The Planter’s plant is a completely modern facility.
The Suffolk Peanut Company facility is on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for industry as the best remaining example of a peanut processing plant in southeast Virginia. It is also eligible under Criterion C for Architecture with nearly every building type associated with the processing and storage of peanuts from the early-to-mid twentieth century represented with strong integrity. The period of significance is from 1903, the earliest documented resource, to 1968 when ownership passed from the Suffolk Peanut Company to Goldkist Peanuts.
The Suffolk Peanut Company is located on a large wedge-shaped ten-acre site on South Saratoga Street in Suffolk, Virginia. The large peanut processing complex consists of numerous warehouses and several processing buildings spread out across the site with many concentrated along the north end bordering the former Norfolk & Western Railroad line. The early twentieth century buildings, which make up a majority of the resources, are brick masonry Commercial Style with some limited articulation. The site is flat with grass and gravel between resources and surrounded by a high chain link fence. There is a small stand of trees on the eastern end of the property. The surrounding area is a mostly light industrial with no sidewalks. With the intact railroad to the north, an intact spur on the property, numerous contributing resources with strong integrity, the overall setting of the property is one that retains much of the historic character and materials.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SITE BUILDINGS
The former Suffolk Peanut Company complex on South Saratoga Street, bordered by the Norfolk Southern railroad line to the north, Wellons Street to the west, and South Saratoga Street to the south, is located on a ten-acre wedge shaped parcel. The property retains numerous warehouses, buildings, and large scale equipment used at one time or another in the peanut processing and storage industry from the beginning of the twentieth century until the sale of the company to Goldkist around 1968. The older buildings on the site are lined up parallel to the railroad line in a narrow band, and represent the original company parcel until it was expanded to encompass the current site in 1917. Two groups of warehouses date to the early period of development of the Suffolk Peanut Company. Warehouses 2, 3, 4, 5 were built along with the original ca 1902 mill (demolished in the last decade). Another mill was constructed ca 1914 and ca 1920 warehouses 10, 11 were added soon after. Later the 1928 Central Warehouse was constructed as the business expanded and this may also date the addition of the expanded railroad sput into the center of the site. The second mill was destroyed in a fire and replaced by the current five-story 1932 mill on the same site. An expansion of the complex accompanied the construction of the new mill in 1932 including the cold storage warehouse ca 1932, a boiler house and power plant ca 1937, and an expansion to the mill added by 1949. As peanut storage became an increased focus of the business, the cold storage warehouse was expanded ca 1950 and three large metal warehouses were built between 1963 and 1972. Finally, the grading warehouse was rebuilt and expanded ca 1976 and followed by a new office, truck scales, and a sampling station in the 1980s completing the current complex. The currently existing resources are as follows, and labelled to match the accompanying map.
- A) Railroad Spur, ca 1903, ca 1932 C: The smaller northern end of the spur was constructed as part of the original ca 1903 mill and warehouse development. Elements of this spur remain paralleling the current Norfolk Southern railroad lines. The second spur was added as part of the new mill constructed in 1932. This spur went from the main line into the center of the parcel to serve the Central Warehouse and the Cold Storage Warehouse. This track is intact, but partially covered by dirt and grass.
- B) Warehouse 2, ca 1907 (ca 1953 addition) CC) Warehouse 3, ca 1903 CD) Warehouse 4, ca 1907 C: These three warehouses are one-story brick masonry construction featuring six and seven course American bond. The exteriors have several repairs, but the majority of the original brick work is intact. The central portion was constructed first, with the two sides added soon after. The eastern most warehouse eventually was clipped on its north and south sides to accommodate the two railroad spurs; a mid-twentieth century addition extended the end of the warehouse to a point The roof of all three warehouses utilizes an extended stepped parapet to unify the exterior. There are two loading doors on the south side and several smaller openings. There are also several loading doors on the northern railroad side which abut the extended covered concrete walkway. The interior of these warehouses are separated into three spaces which feature similar wood post supports, exposed wood ceiling joists and roof boards. The central space features a shallow gable, while the two side warehouses have sloped roofs. The floor are poured concrete and appear to have replaced earlier flooring. There are no windows and the walls are exposed brick.
- E) Warehouse 5, ca 1913 C: This warehouse was built to serve the expanding storage needs and is a seven course American bond four-story brick masonry building with a sloped roof featuring a parapet. There are two windows on the north and south end of each floor, but none on the east and west sides. The window openings are intact with round brick arches, but the original window sash have been replaced. There are also openings below the floor level on the north and south ends providing access to a crawl space. Each floor features two rows of thick wood posts supporting large beams running the width of the building which are topped by wood subflooring running the opposite direction. The flooring is wood and the walls are exposed brick. There is an historic freight elevator in the northeast corner of the building which serves all four floors. The top floor has some water damage from a leaking roof and features joists to support the roof planking.
- F) Peanut Elevators, ca 1972 NC: The grain elevators were installed in the last period of expansion, likely to replace earlier equipment. They also served to connect the four-story warehouse 5 with the main mill building. The exterior has corrugated metal siding with no windows. The interior elevator runs the full height of the approximately four-story structure. There is also a large metal canopy covering a poured concrete loading platform, constructed at the same time, which connects the grain elevator building to the Central Warehouse.
- G) Mill, 1932 C: This five-story building features poured concrete floors, support columns, joists, ceilings, and floors with seven course American bond brick masonry construction for the exterior walls between each part of the seven-bay concrete grid. There is a large grain sorter attached to the southwest end of the roof with extensions down the sides of the building. There is an elevator on the south central side of the building with a penthouse on the roof. There is a covered concrete loading platform which runs the full width of the building on the southern elevation, matching the platform which runs along the railroad tracks on the north side. The southeast corner features an historic interior office with original interior six-over-six wood sash windows and exterior twelve light metal jalousie windows. Each level features concrete floors, concrete columns supporting concrete joists, and concrete ceilings where the impressions of the wood planks from the molds can still be seen. There is an abundance of abandoned equipment on every level. A concrete stair on the east wall provides access to each level. There are four windows on each level of the south side, three windows on each level of the west and east ends, and three windows on each level of the north side. All of the windows are steel frame multi-light industrial windows with awning and hopper opening elements. The windows on the ends are fifteen light; the windows on the two sides are twenty light; there are also a few scattered windows of different sizes all featuring metal sash. On the north (railroad) side of the second story are six enormous forty light metal sash windows which almost fill the bay. The northwest corner of the building has a door in each bay accessing a metal fire escape attached to the exterior. The one-story addition on the west end of the mill features a concrete floor, concrete supports, and a concrete ceiling. However, the walls are completely brick masonry construction.
- H) Mill Addition, ca 1933-48 C: This one-story addition to the mill is seven course American bond brick construction. It has a large loading door on the north and south sides and is topped by a huge circular corrugated metal storage tower on the south side which is connected to the later Grain Sorter. The north side is topped by multiple rusted metal tanks which appear to have been used to load train cars.
I) Warehouse 9, ca 1956 C: This building is also seven course American bond brick construction with a loading door on the north and south sides and a raised poured concrete foundation which creates a water table on the exterior. The southwestern end of the warehouse is connected to Commodity Warehouse A by a large corrugated metal structure which covers concrete loading pads likely for loading trucks. The roof is a shallow gable with a central penthouse and stepped parapets on the west and east ends.
- J) Peanut Sorter, ca 1972 NC: This large metal structure encompasses elements which connect to the mill, the mill addition, Warehouse 9, the former boiler house and power plant building, and Commodity Warehouse A. It served to move product between buildings during processing and also likely for loading finished product onto trucks.
- K) Warehouse 10, ca 1920 CL) Warehouse 11, ca 1920 C: These two warehouses were constructed at the same time and share a central wall. They feature seven course American bond construction with regular openings below the floor level providing exterior access to a crawl space. There is a loading door for each on the south and north sides. The two end and central walls feature stepped parapets at the roof level. The roofs of both warehouses have collapsed and the interiors were inaccessible; however the walls are intact on all sides.
- M) Shop Warehouse, ca 1976 NC: This is a simple corrugated metal workshop for the facility which was added onto the western end of the warehouses running along the railroad lines.
- N) Central Warehouse, 1928 C: This large trapezoidal shaped warehouse features seven course American bond brick construction and regular openings below the floor level providing exterior access to the crawl space. The roof is a shallow gable with stepped parapets at the north and south ends. There is a pair of loading doors on the south end which face the railroad spur. There are also two loading doors on the north side which abut the covered concrete loading platform. There is also an historic “Federal-State Inspection Office” in the northwest corner of this warehouse with an exterior entry door accessed by brick steps covered by a small gabled roof. The interior of the office features historic woodwork with later paneling. Most of the metal jalousie windows are intact. The interior also features exposed brick and wood floors. The exterior walls which face the warehouse interior are bead board and weather board. The exterior entry door features three wood panels on the lower half and three horizontal glass panes on the top half.
- O) Boiler House & Power Plant Building, ca 1937 C: This two-story building has three bays, divided by interior walls. The roof is sloped and divided by brick parapets between each bay. The northern most bay ceiling has partially collapsed and the other two bays were inaccessible. The remaining ceiling features wood joists supporting wood roof planks. The north bay was used for processing and features a huge metal sorting machine. The building features seven course American bond brick construction with exposed brick interior walls and a poured concrete floor. An historic two panel wood door and a large bead board door are present. There are single-story corrugated metal shed roof additions on the east and north sides of the building.
- P) Main Office, ca 1980 NC: This small building is a simple one-story side gabled office with a single-bay, off center front gabled entry porch. It is wood frame construction with brick siding. There are multiple six-over-six vinyl double hung windows. There is also a side entry on the east with a matching porch. Q) Commodity Warehouse A, ca 1972 NC: This is the most recent of very large corrugated metal storage warehouses. This warehouse features a poured concrete foundation and a square footprint. The hipped roof has a conveyor connected to the large Grain Sorter at its peak. There is a large, central loading door large enough for vehicle access featuring a metal roll up door on the north end. The interior has steel framing which forms the skeleton for the entire building and to which the exterior vertical metal cladding is attached.
- R) Commodity Warehouse B, ca 1963 C: This is the oldest of the three large commodity storage warehouses. It features a rectangular footprint with a front gable design and is also covered in vertical corrugated metal. The foundation is poured concrete. There is a corrugated metal three part addition on the north end which houses part of the grain conveyor which connects this warehouse with Commodity Warehouse C. The interior features an elaborate steel framing system as well as two rows of skylights on both sides of the ceiling. There is an off center loading opening with a metal roll up door on the north end.
- S) Commodity Warehouse C, ca 1969 NC: This warehouse is a rectangular front gable building which features horizontal corrugated metal exterior siding on the sides and vertical metal siding on the ends and sides of the gabled roof. The foundation is poured concrete and there is a central loading opening with a metal roll up door on the north end. The interior features a steel framing system and a single row of skylights on each side of the gabled ceiling.
- T) Cold Storage Warehouse, ca 1932, 1950 addition C: This is a two-story, seven course American bond brick construction warehouse with a shallow gabled roof with stepped parapets at each end. There is a loading door on the west and north sides and the floor is poured concrete. The addition is built with a concrete framing system (similar in appearance to the mill) which forms an exterior grid with brick veneer filling each section. It is five-bays on the north and south ends and six-bays on the west and east sides. There is a covered poured concrete loading platform along the west and northern sides. The interior of the original warehouse has wood posts and large wood beams supporting wood subflooring for the second story. Some wood posts have been replaced by metal posts. There is an historic elevator on the north side of the building. The addition interior has concrete posts which expand at the top to large concrete pads which support the second story.
- U) Grading Warehouse (with addition), ca 1976 NC: This building is a long, single-story rectangle with a concrete block foundation and corrugated metal siding. The eastern side may have the foundation of an earlier warehouse. There is a gabled roof on the older and newer sections. There is also a two story grain sorter on the north side of the warehouse.
- V) Truck Scales, ca 1980 NC: This consists of a concrete pad with a small concrete block weigh station.
- W) Sampling Station, ca 1981 NC: This is a two-bay, two-story steel frame building with corrugated metal siding on the upper level. The lower level consists of a poured concrete foundation and access for vehicles to pull in below the upper levels to receive product.
The historic Golden Peanut factory site is being renovated into mixed-use town center complex, including market-rate rental housing – one- and two- bedroom “loft-style” residences – known as Peanut Crossing. The parking and grounds will be revamped as part of this project. The historic features will be preserved and highlighted as this project utilizes federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits, so the redevelopment design is overseen by both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the federal National Park Service.
- March 2019 | Development team partners with site owners
- September 2019 | City approves project rezoning
- February 2020 | City approves project subdivision
- February & March 2020 | Approvals received from HTC Part 2 Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the federal National Park Service
- XXXX 2020 | City approves project site plan
- XXXX 2020 | City issues project building permits
- XXXX 2020 | Project construction loan closes, demolition begins
- XXXX 2020 | Project building permits issued, Phase 1 construction begins
- Early Summer 2021 | Phase 1 completion (56 Apartments, Parking, Related Amenities)