Teresa Demaso Scott grew up in Bangor, but now lives in a small town in North Carolina. A few months ago she found herself getting homesick and needing some “northern comfort.”

So Scott made up a plate of B&M Baked Beans, B&M Brown Bread (with raisins), and hot dogs, and washed it down with a beer. The meal brings back memories of Saturday night dinners featuring her mother’s homemade baked beans, usually served with B&M Brown Bread. Scott’s parents were from Massachusetts, so the family visited there often, and the B&M factory in Portland was always a landmark on the return trip. The sight of the smokestack and the sweet smell wafting from it meant the family was closer to home.

Today Scott’s parents are long gone, and she’s living more than 1,000 miles from her hometown. Eating B&M beans is “very comforting,” she said, “especially being so far away from home and for so many years. It’s always a connection back to the past.”

Scott is one of many Mainers who are mourning the upcoming loss of the B&M Baked Bean factory in Portland, a fixture of the city’s skyline since 1913 – or earlier, if you count the 150-year-old company’s original location on Franklin. The industrial facade that once fit right in with our red brick city will soon be replaced by lots of modern glass windows overlooking 13.5 acres of prime waterfront, and B&M beans will move to the Midwest, somewhere. This relic of our manufacturing past will become the Roux Institute’s graduate school and technology campus, where students will study life sciences, data engineering and artificial intelligence – a giant leap into the 21st century. Instead of workers sampling beans from the line, or eating hot brown bread on their breaks, visitors will eat at a new restaurant and sleep at a new hotel planned for the property.

Tim Ward of Glenburn and his son Cameron love to eat B&M Baked Beans with red snapper hot dogs. Dinner would not be complete without a mustard smiley face. Photo courtesy of Tim Ward

The smokestack that showered the scents of molasses and freshly cooked beans all over town is already gone. Soon the Christmas tree made of lights that every year brought a smile to drivers on I-295 will be gone as well, along with the endless jokes about flatulence from Portland’s children and dads looking for a cheap laugh. Here’s hoping that the factory’s adorable address on Bean Pot Drive stays the same.

While many Portland residents seem to welcome the change and the opportunities it will bring, everyone interviewed for this story used the same word to describe how they felt when they heard the news that B&M was closing: Sad.

Remembrance of things past

Alice Elliott of Topsham said that “having grown up with it, I just can’t believe it’s going to go.”

“I’m happy that the Roux school is going to use it,” she said, “but not having the stack there is kind of sad. I wish they could have saved that.”

When Elliott was a child, her aunt worked at the B&M plant. For Christmas, she would give the family cases of beans and brown bread. That food didn’t last as long as you might think: In addition to their own children, Elliott’s parents took in many foster children over the years. Baked beans and brown bread made for a quick, convenient and inexpensive dinner.

“We always looked forward to the brown bread, and like many Mainers it was the traditional meal for Saturday night,” Elliott said. “We actually did it on Sunday evenings, but we had it every week.”

Elliott said when her husband, who is not from Maine, first smelled the odor of beans in the city, he wondered aloud why Mainers were all cooking chili on the same day. Today the couple still buys B&M bread to take on camping trips. They heat it on their camp stove and eat it with butter.

Cast-iron bean pots crafted by the Portland company circa 1900 await shipment to the B&M Baked Bean factory just a mile away. Collections of Maine Historical Society, VintageMaineImages.net, item #7993

Constance Mailman of Westbrook worked in the B&M factory from 1987 to 1989. She grew up on Veranda Street in East Deering, where every Saturday night her family ate B&M beans and brown bread with cream cheese. She used to walk down the train trestle and cross over to East End Beach, before a new bridge made that impossible. Sometimes she watched as trains rolled in and dumped their cargo of beans into the B&M hopper.

When she was 25, Mailman was happy to get a job in the B&M plant because it was close to home, and she enjoyed the camaraderie among the employees. She took on several jobs there – applying labels, canning brown bread, and working the “bull pen” – where empty bean pots were scrubbed and cleaned. Her least favorite task (“the worst job in the world”) was sitting on the belt picking out “sticks and rocks” after the beans were washed.

“It’s just so repetitive watching the beans go by hour after hour after hour,” Mailman said. “Some women loved it. They were there for years doing it. God love them.”

If they missed something and a customer sent the object back to the company, the workers got into trouble. Mailman said a supervisor told her that once a customer sent back a diamond ring that had slipped off into can of beans.

Mailman also had one of the most high-profile jobs at the plant – at least in the eyes of outsiders like customers and journalists. She was one of the workers who placed an inch-sized slice of salt pork into every can before it was sealed. (In the old days, according to Maine food historian Sandra Oliver, as much as a pound of streaky pork would be added to two quarts of dried beans. “Baked beans are, at this point, a low-fat food,” she joked.)

And yes, these workers really were called porkers.

The pork came down a chute onto a stainless steel table, Mailman recalled, and she and one other worker would scoop up a handful, each adding a piece to every other can coming down the line. Think Lucy and Ethel working in the candy factory.

“I’m glad I worked there when I was younger because I don’t know if I could do it now,” Mailman said. “The cans go by at 200 cans a minute. … Sometimes the line would stop and the cans would still be moving, you know what I mean? You’d get dizzy.”

All the jobs were hot and steamy, Mailman said, which wasn’t fun when she was pregnant. But the work had its perks as well. When someone from quality control opened a can of bread to check it, she said, “all us workers would go over and sample some. It was really good hot out of the can.” Employees would also sometimes grab beans off the chute after they came out of the brick oven but before they were canned, and pop a couple in their mouth.

At the end of her shift, Mailman said, she and her clothes smelled like beans. The company had showers on site, so on Friday nights she’d wash the smell out of her hair before heading out to the bars for some fun.

Mailman said she never got sick of smelling or eating the beans, and she still enjoys them today. She says she predicted for years, as the business was bought and sold multiple times, that the plant would disappear one day “because corporations buy that place and use it as a tax write-off. The land’s more valuable than the tax deduction.”

David Marsden, a Portland residential real estate agent, probably would love to have a conversation with Mailman. After graduating from the University of Maine in the mid-1980s, he spent a year windsurfing in Maui before moving to Portland. He soon found himself windsurfing, paddle boarding and kayaking in the waters around the plant. The B&M building was as mysterious to him as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

David Marsden of Portland, a residential real estate agent, recently found this vintage, dust-covered B&M hat in the basement of a Portland home. Photo courtesy of David Marsden

Though baked beans were not a Saturday night ritual for Marsden growing up, he “ate a lot of beans and dogs and kind of loved it. And my daughter, that was sort of a staple when she was young. We would eat those together. I was a single parent.”

Marsden loved poking around the factory at high tide and fantasizing about what it was like inside, and what he would do with the building if he lived there. Married now, he daydreamed about having a whole floor of living space, where he would create a studio for his artist wife.

“I have a rich fantasy life,” Marsden said, laughing. “There were many iterations of ‘That building is mine.’”

Just this summer, Marsden was thrilled when he found a vintage B&M cap, covered in dust, tucked away in the basement of a client’s home. “I was like ‘Oh man, this is classic, this is great. This might have been a worker’s hat.’”

Though he was shocked when he heard the property was being sold, Marsden thinks the new project is “phenomenal for the city. In my personal opinion, it’s beyond what I could have fantasized for the place.”

“It’s like this old, forbidden, off-limits place that’s always there, but it’s silent in the background, and now it’s going to be this George Orwell, futuristic place,” he said. “I think it’s cool.”

She begs to differ

Teresa Demaso Scott grew up in Bangor but now lives in North Carolina. When she gets homesick, she fixes herself a plate of B&M Baked Beans and B&M brown bread for dinner. Photo courtesy of Teresa Demaso Scott

Teresa Demaso Scott, the baked bean lover who now lives in North Carolina, is not excited. She was “devastated” by the news that the land was being sold and the plant moved to the Midwest.

“I’m, like, seriously? How are they going to know how to make the baked beans?” she said. “I mean, they are just not going to know what to do. My concern is, are they going to be the same? Is it the same recipe? Are they going to do what they’re supposed to do, and not do anything? I doubt it, but it remains to be seen.”

Scott stocks up on B&M beans and bread whenever she travels back to Maine because they are harder to find in the South. Her daughter attends the University of New England in Biddeford, and they still use the plant as a landmark when they travel north of Portland to visit family.

“Now we’re not going to be able to do that,” she said. “I hate it. I’m so upset.”

John Duncan, a now retired jack-of-all-trades and world traveler who grew up in Falmouth, vividly remembers going to bean suppers with his father, who loved them, and taking a tour of the B&M factory as a student in the 1960s. His father worked at the American Can Co. on Read Street (hence the name of the nearby Canco Road), where workers made the cans for the B&M factory.

In October, Islandport Press is publishing “Take it Easy: Portland in the 1970s” ($19.95), a book of Duncan’s photographs that document that decade. He empathizes with residents who complain about high-priced condos replacing the working-class homes that used to be on the peninsula, the B&M factory leaving, and so many other changes that make them uncomfortable, and sad and nervous about the future of the city they love.

“Some people are just so bitter about the changes in Portland, and I can understand that,” Duncan said. “From the ’90s and on up, it’s just been this constant transition.”

When his book editor asked him to write about the changes in the last 50 years, Duncan turned to a quote from the writer and philosopher Alan Watts. It’s a sentiment that he passes on here to Portland’s bean lovers:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”


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