Architecture -
Heritage and History

Warrensburg Cannery, W. North Street, Warrensburg, IL

©2009 John W. Pace

Photo taken facing east on W. North Street, Warrensburg, IL

The Warrensburg Cannery was an important institution in the village of Warrensburg, Illinois for many years. It was built by Charles Joseph Off, a wealthy Peoria wholesale grocer, in 1893, on a 160 acre parcel that fronted W. North Street. Mr. Off owned considerable property around the village and used the cannery for processing his sweet corn. He estimated that the cannery would provide work for approximately 50 people.(1)

The first year of production, 1894, the cannery employed 250 workers to process corn. At the end of the corn season, the cannery was put to work processing tomatoes, some 16,000 tins per day.(2) The banner year of 1899 saw the processing of an estimated 1,300,000 cans. Not to be outdone by other canneries in the state, Mr. Off made sure to make improvements to the plant each year, increasing production and efficiency.(3)

Charles Off

Charles Joseph Off *

Charles J. Off never moved to Macon Co., IL, but continued his wholesale business in Peoria until his death on 27 Jun 1920.(4) He was married to Margaret Fey and they were the parents of four sons; David, Robert, Walter, and Clifford.(5) The Warrensburg Cannery continued to operate and it was reported in Aug 1920 that the cannery was producing as many as 23,000 cans per day.(6)

The C.J. Off company was acquired by five stockholders in 1915 - W.R. Roach, L.A. Sears and B.C. Nott of Grand Rapids, MI; R. Hess of Chillicothe, OH and Frank B. DeMotte of Warrensburg, who was the manager of the plant. Mr. Sears was the principal stockholder and president and Mr. Hess the secretary-treasurer. Together, they virtually rebuilt the plant, complete with new office, dormitory, power house and husking building. State of the art equipment was added, as well - automatic husking, filling, sealing, sterilizing and labeling machinery.(7)

The season of 1923 was considered average, due to the weather, but the output was actually quite good. 26,000 cases were processed, equalling 2,704,000 cans of corn. All of these positive statistics fell by the wayside when the cannery warehouse caught fire in January 1924, causing $200,000 of damage. The fire was spotted quickly by Frank Vaughn who lived just a few hundred yards away, but little could be done. Smoke from the fire spread across the water reservoir, making it impossible to use the town's fire engine. A call for assistance was put through to Decatur's fire fighters, but with the weather conditions being what they were, all anyone could do was watch as the fire consumed the building.(8)

The fire consumed the reserve canned stock, the coal supply, as well as seed corn for the following year. Covered by insurance, the stockholders decided quickly to rebuild.(9)

The year 1925 saw a heavy crop of sweet corn, leaving the Warrensburg Cannery and others in the state with a surplus stock of canned corn. In order to move the surplus, production for 1926 was reduced, as was the overall prices paid per ton to the contracted farmers.(10)

In 1927, cannery superintendant L.E. Sears reported that the estimated output of the cannery would be between 60,000 and 70,000 cases with employees numbering 125. The only downside that year was a decrease in the acreage of canning corn available. By 1931, 1900 acres were under contract for corn cultivation. C.E. England's contract was the highest - 160 acres.(11)

The cannery ran every year until 1934 when enough acreage to grow the canning corn could not be had. Processing resumed in 1935 and continued yearly until 1938. Records cease after that.(12)

The cannery closed. In 1944 or 1945, Lampworks operated in the building, followed by Drake Portable Electric in the early 1950's. G.W. Murphy took over the business about 1968 and the name was later changed to McGraw-Edison. They continued in business until 1976. Superior Welding and Union Iron Works used the building from 1977 until 1981.(13)

The Warrensburg Cannery is a testament to the ingenuity and foresight of those who built and operated within the village. They provided work each year for a large number of people, not only in the cannery itself, but also for the farmers who grew the sweet corn and tomatoes needed for processing. It was a marriage of industry and ingenuity that worked well.


1. The Daily Review, 17 Mar 1893, pg. 2
2. The Daily Review, 23 Sep 1894, pg. 3
3. The Daily Review, 6 Sep 1899, pg. 8
4. Illinois State Archives Death Index pre-1916, death of Charles Joseph Off, 29 Jun 1920, Averyville, Peoria Co., IL
5. Portrait and Biographical Album of Peoria, IL, 1890, Biography of Charles J. Orr, pg. 823-824.
6. Decatur Review, 31 Jan 1924, pg. 17
7. ibid
7. ibid
8. ibid
9. ibid
10. Decatur Review, 29 Mar 1926, pg. 13
11. Decatur Herald, 2 Oct 1927, pg. 8
12. Warrensburg 1882-1982, Trump Printing, Inc., 1982, pg. 8
13. ibid

* Picture of Charles J. Off appeared in the Portrait and Biographical Album of Peoria, IL, pg. 823-824

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