|Messenger photo by Linda Dillman|
The familiar old Winchester Farm Sausage, barn-shaped, sign along U.S. Route 33 has been restored as a civic message board by Destination: Canal Winchester.
Canal Winchester was once "sausage central" for the heartland of Ohio and the memory of the Meuser family’s Winchester Farm Sausage business continues with the restoration of a sign erected by the company along U.S. Route 33 more than 50 years ago.
The red barn themed sign, created by artist Dick Cherry in the 1950s, served as the main outdoor advertisement for the sausage company, which was started by family patriarch Carl T. Meuser in 1938.
"My dad grew up in Obetz and his family was always in the meat business," said Carl’s daughter, Shirley Meuser. "They had a shop in the old Central Market in Columbus and sold beef. He (Carl) thought there was a need for good sausage that used hams and shoulders with lots of flavor instead of fatty leftovers. He started the company in Canal Winchester on Waterloo Street, not far from our home, and built a little retail shop next to the house. My mom started the market around 1939-40 and sold sausage and produce. There were no big chain stores then, so dad delivered to little mom and pop markets in the area."
With no air conditioning or high-tech cooling systems, the company routinely closed during the hot summer months. The advent of large-scale grocers and better refrigeration in the 1950s found Winchester Farm engaging in year-round operations supplying individual customers and companies like Big Bear, Kroger and Albers with a line of sausage products.
As kids, Shirley and her brother Paul accompanied their father on delivery routes and helped their mother at the retail store where they would sell apple cider by the glass. Their father let them pocket the profits from their cider sales to learn the value of a day’s wage for a day’s work.
While in college, both Meuser siblings came home on the weekends to help with the family operation. However, Shirley said her father felt it was best for his children to learn about the work world from something other than just the sausage business and encouraged them to pursue different careers after graduating from college.
"He wanted us to learn discipline and respect in working with other people," said Shirley, who earned a degree in marketing from Capital University. "Paul went into the Navy and I worked for Flickenger’s and after a few years, we returned to the family business. I went into sales and Paul went into production. Things were starting to change in the business, but we wanted to stay in Canal Winchester where we felt supported and we took a lot of pride in the community."
Carl Meuser passed away in 1962 and his children took over the company. In the middle 1970s, with competition growing in the marketplace, the Meusers introduced a bratwurst product that became a signature item for Winchester Farm.
"We needed something that would make us stand out," said Shirley. "At one time, my brother worked for Deibels Restaurant in German Village and they wanted someone to make bratwurst for them, so he developed it for Deibels. There was no other bratwurst in the retail market then and it just took off. It was such a versatile product."
Expansion was inevitable and, although Winchester Farm never journeyed far from its Waterloo Street location, the retail market was eventually torn down and incorporated into a new office complex. The production plant was enlarged to accommodate a growing product line.
"At the time, Canal Winchester didn’t come out as far as the plant, so we were pretty much in the country," said Shirley.
In 1996 the family sold the company, which was closed by the new owner a year later. Today, the complex houses a paving company.
New life for an old sign
The old barn-shaped Winchester Farm Sausage Company sign will now represent the city.
Destination: Canal Winchester restored the barn-shaped sign to serve as a welcome and information portal to the city. Despite its age, the sign was in solid condition, but needed a full cosmetic restoration and replacement of a rotted roof.
"We discussed the billboard as far back as a year ago, but had not budgeted for it in 2012," said Destination: Canal Winchester Executive Director Bruce Jarvis. "We were not sure it was going to be available or if it could be restored/rented at a rate we could afford."
Jarvis said Richard and Jo Weiser made a "very generous donation to cover not only 100 percent of the cost of materials, but also enough event signs to get us through the remaining season and part of the 2013 season. We saved thousands of dollars of expense by employing volunteer labor to complete the restoration."
Jarvis said several design approaches were discussed and it was decided to take advantage of the unique barn-like shape by adding red barn siding and architectural elements including trim, gable "vents" and a running horse weather vane to complete the look.