by Kate Shunney
Bright red siding, rich blue sky and fall colors dominate Matthew Morrison’s oil painting of a Morgan County landmark that still stands in his memory.
The Tomato Canning Factory in Duckwall took in crops from farmers all throughout the Duckwall and Highland Ridge area of eastern Morgan County.
Morrison, who lives in the Nashville area, recently donated the 50-year-old painting of the former Duckwall & Johnson Canning Factory to the Museum of the Berkeley Springs, along with a letter that detailed his memory of the factory and his family life nearby in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The painting shows the backdrop of blue sky and Sleepy Creek Mountain, rising to the east of Duckwall, which was home to families with familiar county names of Duckwall, Cain, Lutman, Swaim, Weber, Michael, Henry and Keefer.
Morrison, who describes himself as a “Preacher, Teacher, Artist, Writer” in his letter accompanying the painting, is the son of James and Margaret Swaim Morrison.
I was born in 1933 on Highland Ridge in Morgan County and lived there until 1943, when our family moved to Baltimore.
Morrison said he did a small pastel drawing of the Tomato Canning Factory, which was part of his childhood recollections, in 1952. He painted the large oil painting of the factory 15 years later, he told museum officials.
Over the years, this artwork has brought great joy to me, my wife, Betty Ross, and son, Matthew Ross. Now we are pleased to donate the oil painting to the Museum of the Berkeley Springs for display.
The donation was facilitated by Linda Swaim Buzzerd, Morrison’s cousin, longtime Morgan Messenger contributor and widow of the Messenger’s late publisher Warren Buzzerd. Buzzerd was familiar with the painting in person, she said.
“I had seen it a couple years ago on his dining room wall and recently asked if he’d donate it to the library… It is a beautiful piece of art,” Buzzerd wrote.
Morrison’s son shipped the painting to Museum director Lori Hansroth earlier this month.
Morrison writes, in his letter accompanying the donation:
The Tomato Canning Factory was an important landmark for us kids on the Ridge – Lewis, James and John, Betty Ann, Matthew, David, Mary Ruth, Andrew and Nancy. We would play in the dirt with little cars carved from maple tree bark or maybe squash houseflies with Mason jar lids – and look for Daddy to come home.
We would see a small strip of the road from town about four or five miles away – and look for Daddy’s Model A.
“Look! I bet that’s Daddy!” Daddy’s Ford would dip out of sight and we would guess where it was on the road home.
“By now he’s at the bottom of Duckwall’s Hill!”
“Naw, he’s just now crossed the bridge there at the Canning Factory.”
Many of Mother’s family – the Swaims – worked at this canning factory – her brother, Roscoe, sisters, Ruth, Letha, and Lizzie. Roscoe’s oldest daughter, Linda Swaim Buzzerd, also worked there during the canning season.
In the county history volume Morgan County West Virginia and Its People published in 1981 by the Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society, L. Marie Duckwall recounts highlights of the community’s history, from churches to schools to the canning factory.
“From the schoolhouse, going north, down Duckwall’s Hill about a mile, one would come to the Phillips Brothers’ Canning Factory which was located on the east bank of Sleepy Creek at the one-lane Iron Bridge. Both factory and bridge were built in 1912.”
“’The Factory’ was an important part of the neighborhood in late summer and fall at tomato production time. Farmers brought their wagon loads of ripe tomatoes to the cannery; their wives and daughters worked as ‘tomato peelers.’ For a number of years ‘the factor’ was owned by George D. Duckwall and Carl Johnson and operated as ‘Duckwall & Johnson.’ Many cases of high-quality Morgan County tomatoes were canned and distributed to surrounding states. Now, this factory, and all others of the county, are just memories.”