One part of our Witherington heritage I had not sufficiently explored is our connections to the Mt. Olive Pickle Company which still today is located in Mt. Olive North Carolina, a town of about 5,000 people about half of whom work at this plant, which today is the largest pickle company in the U.S. and probably in the world. The company was founded Jan. 2 1926 (and soon will reach its 1ooth anniversary), and its part of the Witherington heritage I’m very proud of. One of the Founders and the major financial manager of this company was Isham Faison Witherington, my grandfather Ben Witherington’s first cousin. The company was founded when Isham had only recently established his insurance company in Mt. Olive after graduating with honors from UNC. He was chosen by Mr. Baddour and George Moore because of his business acumen and good Christian character, being a stalwart at the local Presbyterian church. Since both Mr. Baddour and Mr. Moore were gone by 1928, it was left to Isham and the Board of director/ share holders to steer the company through the Great Depression, and WWII to enormous success. Isham was still doing this in 1955 when he had a stroke and died at Chapel Hill Hospital from complications. Today, his grandson, Faison Hester is one of the directors. Now I had known a bit about all this from growing up in High Point and having cousins who were Hesters, also related to those in Mt. Olive and to the Witheringtons. My Faison relatives lived just down the road in Calypso, and various Witheringtons and Faisons and Hesters are buried in Mt. Olive or Faison. Interestingly, there were other connections because my father was from nearby Goldsboro as was Mr. Baddour, and NOW the mt. Olive Pickle company has just opened a new plant in Goldsboro providing over 100 new jobs. This has become a multi-million dollar business. Today, you will see below the dozens of brine tanks curing the cucumbers, which can hold up to— wait for it— 40 million pickles. But let’s let the pictures tell the story.
Here below is Isham Faison Witherington, as a young man at UNC from the yearbook, and then as a grown man running the company.
And here we are, my sister Laura, my wife Ann, and myself, at the edge of the main pickle plant on the corner of Cucumber Blvd and Vine, which used to be the corner of Witherington and Center St. None of this would have been possible without the incredible help of the customer service agent for the company— Melissa Kilpatrick, she was a wonderful guide generous with her time.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but outside was fine, so here come the cucumbers into the processing plant…
They will end up in glass pickle jars. Thousands upon thousands of cucumbers, become pickles through the pickling process, which involves brine with Mediterranean salt, which has a higher saline content. Here are the brine vats…. note the floating pickles
Here are a couple of vintage photos of the workers in the plant. One of the most fascinating parts was watching the workers literally pound pickles into the glass jars with a soft mallet so as to fit as many as possible in each jar. And then labels are slapped onto the bottles and they are boxed up for shipping. This compnay is so dominant they even make pickles for all the Walmarts, putting the Walmart Pride label on the jars.
Here’s the mascot, which shows up at the annual pickle festival which occurs the last Saturday in April.
Here are a sample of the final product, the most popular of which are the dill spears. When you visit the small downtown with the train running right down the main street, you see how proud the town is of Mt. Olive Pickle Company— note the two painted murals on the walls..,.
Local artists do pickle paintings for sale…
Even Minions come to town for the pickles!
As we left town, we found the First Presbyterian Church where Isham and his family attended.