From the Historian: Fairport was in a pickle, almost

Bill Poray

The P. Cox Shoe Company began manufacturing at a newly constructed brick factory on Fairport’s Parce Avenue in January 1885. The firm, which had moved from Rochester to the village with the lure of financial incentives and non-union labor, more than fulfilled its obligations outlined in a five-year contract with the village. Once the Fairport factory was unionized and financial incentives were exhausted, the shoe company returned to Rochester in 1893. The result was that many local residents lost their jobs and the big Parce Avenue factory was vacant.  

From the collection of the Perinton Historical Society, this photo, likely taken between 1891 and 1893. It’s a view to the northwest across the Erie Canal, with the P. Cox Shoe factory on Parce Avenue in the background. The Wanderer, a steam-powered launch owned by D.L. Worden, is in the foreground.

One year later, village residents were excited to learn that the H.J. Heinz Company had identified Fairport and the former shoe factory as a favorable location for the production of pickles and other food products. The company was said to be impressed with the region’s soil quality and farming capability, the newly installed water works and proximity to the railroad and canal. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, reports circulated that of the many existing Heinz facilities, a new operation in Fairport would quickly become the second largest in the corporation. 

Local residents were happy to learn that Heinz employees in Pittsburgh worked 12 months per year, unlike many in the food industry. The company also provided its employees with educational opportunities, including night school and an on-site library. Fairport anticipated a grand welcome for its newest industry. 

A small committee of local businessmen was assembled to help secure the Heinz opportunity for the community. The company sought incentives in order to operate its facility here. The cost of purchasing the former Cox factory was $20,000 and, reportedly, Mr. Heinz was not willing to contribute any money toward the purchase. 

The Fairport committee set out to identify investors to purchase the factory. Well-attended meetings were held in late 1894, in which hundreds of businessmen and farmers from Perinton, Penfield and other nearby towns were encouraged to lend financial support to purchase the factory for use by Heinz. At the time, the Fairport Herald endorsed the initiative, stating, “Fairport is looking for a chance, and she will embrace it when the opportunity is placed before her enterprising people.” 

Despite the enthusiasm of local residents, time and growing seasons came and went, and Heinz lost interest in the Fairport factory. Eventually, the company established a pickle producing presence in Medina, another canal community 50 miles west of Fairport. 

Bill Poray serves as Perinton town historian.