Birds Eye once employed 40 food researchers in Albion until leaving in 1962

Posted 5 June 2022 at 10:45 am

Photograph by Bill Monacelli – Birds Eye-Snider staff and their families attend their final service at Christ Episcopal Church in Albion, June 1962. Front row, left to right: Eileen Oldershaw, Anne Oldershaw, Rev. Jack Hillary Smith (seated), Marc Withiam, (seated), Marcia Jane Withiam, Audrey Byrne and Alan Byrne. Second row: Peter Oldershaw, Marion Oldershaw, Mrs. Alfred Frane, Sydney Blake, Marilyn Withiam, Charles Withiam, Barbara Byrne and Charles Byrne. Rear: Martha Blake and Mrs. Sydney Blake.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 2, No. 20

ALBION – The photograph above chronicles a significant event in Albion’s economic and social history 60 years ago: the impending closure of the Birds Eye-Snider Laboratories and the departure of the staff of 40 food researchers and their families who were transferred to the General Foods Laboratories at Tarrytown, New York.

The photograph was recently shared with the Orleans County Dept. of History by Eileen Oldershaw McKelvey, the young lady on the left.

Birds Eye-Snider’s main research laboratory was located in Albion from 1942 to 1962. It was housed in this striking Greek Revival home on South Main Street, Albion built c. 1840 by Zephaniah Clark.

The house was converted and expanded to include two analytic laboratories, a test kitchen, a pilot plant, a soils laboratory and a comprehensive research library. Staff included food technologists, chemists, horticulturalists, bacteriologists, engineers and laboratory technicians.

The research focused on improving the quality of frozen foods and optimizing efficient production methods. Albion staff developed many of the Birds Eye frozen foods products sold nationally and internationally.

In 1960, the laboratory processed and tested seventeen varieties of new frozen baby food lines. The in-house pilot plant, which was an exact duplicate of a regular plant, was used in product development and testing.

New varieties of plants were developed in the two large greenhouses built behind the home. Seed stocks were tested and evaluated at the 106-acre experimental farm on County Line Road. Soils from supplier farms were tested in the soils laboratory.

Staff of Birds Eye Snider Laboratory, Summer 1943 – Front row, from left: Jack Wenrich, Sy Pomper, Ruth Adamy, Fern Chase and Jessie Nenni. Back row: Hunter Cohen, Helen Collins, Bill Lee, Helen DiJuilio, W. Enzie and John Swenholt.

The announcement of the closure in November 1961 came as a surprise to the staff, by all accounts. It was also a blow to the community and the county. Payroll at the facility was significant – $400,000 annually (currently $3.8 million). The staff owned homes in the area, their children were enrolled in schools. Many of the staff and their spouses were involved in the community – the Village Board, School Board, Red Cross, Hospital Twig Association, etc.

Local investors formed the Albion Laboratories to continue horticultural research but that closed in 1965. The home was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a Rite-Aid pharmacy building.