It all started…
In 1915 Hans Peter Henschien published the very first book of its kind titled: Packing House and Cold Storage Construction: A General Reference Work on the Planning, Construction and Equipment of Modern American Meat Packing Plants. During a critical time in America’s history when sanitation conditions and food safety were not consistent, this book changed the way we designed and built meat processing facilities. It was not until the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required federal meat inspection, that packinghouse construction changed dramatically. As hygienic standards increased, wood buildings virtually disappeared from packinghouses and were replaced by reinforced concrete. His strategic alliance with the USDA at this early juncture enabled him to set very high standards and when each chapter of the book was followed carefully, the USDA would certify the production facility and also allow government inspectors onsite to actually certify and stamp meat as US Government Inspected Products which was a game changer in 1915. This publication has also been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of the meat packing and cold storage industry. This work was originally published in 1915 when the design process was near completion for the Pueblo, Colorado plant. As a reproduction of a historical artifact, scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public via the Library of Congress. It is also being published again by a specialty house dedicated to lost and forgotten titles.
Recent research has also determined that architect Hans Peter Henschien designed more than 300 meat packing and cold storage facilities around the world and the Pueblo facility was one of his first projects with his new private practice which began in 1915 in Chicago, Illinois. From about 1890 to about 1940, packing plants typically were multistory facilities in which work flowed downward. From the exterior, the Nuckolls Packing Co. complex appears to be almost a solid mass of interconnected structures. Only the administration building, the firehouse, and the ice house stand as completely separate structures. Many of the plant buildings share common walls, although all buildings are structurally independent. They are, however, tied into one another to the extent that little or no design separation is obvious from the exterior. Interior operations were arranged so that the flow of work proceeded in a more-or-less orderly fashion from slaughter through processing and manufacturing to shipping, and the plant can therefore be divided into building clusters according to function or related functions. The complex as a whole is best understood in terms of building clusters associated by function.
The architect is known for his rational factory theory which used gravity as his main form of technological innovation where people and processes are designed to produce optimal outcomes. The main work buildings reflect Hans Peter Henschien’s principles of multistory packinghouse design. “From an operating standpoint,” he wrote in his 1915 treatise on the subject, “the killing floor in a packing plant will be considered as the starting point. Practical experience has located the killing department on the top floor of the slaughterhouse. In modern plants this will be on the fourth floor as livestock can easily be driven to this height without detriment to their condition. With such an arrangement we have the livestock conveyed by it own effort to a point from which the dressed carcasses and all the byproducts can be transferred by gravity, or by a minimum of labor, to their proper place of storage or manufacture.”
The construction of the world’s largest and most modern meat packing and cold storage facility began under the supervision of George Harvey Nuckolls who was the son of the founder, Emmet Nuckolls, who started the first generation of the business in Leadville, Colorado in the late 1880s. G.H. Nuckolls, who as the Pueblo Chieftain notes, “the life of this great pioneer was unselfishly devoted to the building of Pueblo’s greatest local industry.” The buildings were located in the direct path of the Great Flood of 1921 along the Arkansas River but credit is given to the architects unique construction of the 250,000 square foot plant as the absence of any load bearing walls helped save the structure from significant damage. After the waters receded it took less than 90 days to repair the plant and several pictures taken after the aftermath show the Nuckolls Packing Co. standing as a “beacon of hope to all of Pueblo.” The Nuckolls Family, Red Cross, and Elks Lodge joined forces and set up offices for the flood recovery effort at the Nuckolls Packing Co. in the Grove. The plant stayed with the Nuckolls Family until the sale of the property to American Stores Co. of Philadelphia shortly after WWII. It then became a part of the Lincoln Packing Division of American Stores.
Nuckolls Packing Co. employed as many as 500 men and women for over 60 years creating bonds with generations of Pueblo families. After the first two generations of leadership, the Board of Directors did not hesitate to select the founder’s grand daughters Marion and Della Nuckolls to assume top leadership positions. Marion, who was both a classical pianist and a Vice President of a major investment house in Pueblo, served as President and Della, a trained Los Angeles-based Denishawn Dancer who studied dance along with Martha Graham and later was a star of the Greenwich Village Follies at the Shubert Theatre in New York City, took on the roles of both Vice President and Treasurer. Della enjoyed traveling to the East Coast to perform and then return to Pueblo to help with the family business. It is widely known that Marion and Della Nuckolls are considered two of the first women to assume top C-level management roles in a major food production facility in the United States. Della is credited with saving the meat packing plant after its closure during World War II due to severe tin rationing and price controls when private letters were recently discovered between Della and Jay C. Hormel. All of the meat packing industry leaders worked together to ensure businesses returned to pre-war operations levels and in 1946 the Nuckolls Packing Co. was sold to American Stores of Philadelphia. Through the vision of three generations of the Nuckolls Family, the Nuckolls Packing Co. will always remain an important part of Pueblo’s industrial past.
The Nuckolls Packing Co. Plant (now Watertower Place) in the historic Grove neighborhood of Pueblo is currently positioned to become a thought leader in how re-urbanism and thoughtful adaptive re-use of historic properties helps us better understand the 'future of the past'.
The architect of the Nuckolls Packing Co. was Hans Peter Henschien who was born in Norway and emigrated to the United States in 1901. During a career that began in 1902 and lasted into the 1950s, Henschien built his reputation on the design of packinghouses. In his day, he was considered the foremost designer of packinghouses and cold storage warehouses in the country, and he was the first architectural engineer to work extensively among meat packing firms. Henschien came to New York in 1902 where Swift & Company employed him as an engineer and designer. Swift transferred him to its general headquarters in Chicago in 1905. In 1909, Henschien left Swift and went into private practice with D.I. Davis, specializing in packing plant design. He opened his own office in Chicago in 1914 and soon took on a new partner, Robert J. McLaren. Upon McClaren’s retirement in 1929, Henschien continued the firm under his own name. Sometime after 1937 he formed a new partnership known as Henschien, Everds, and Crombie. For several decades Henschien’s 1915 book, Packing House and Cold Storage Construction, was considered the authoritative reference on multi-story packing plant design. During his career, he reportedly designed at least 300 packing plants and cold storage warehouses throughout the world.
Henschien was the most widely known packing house architect in the world and his expertise was required if the Nuckolls Family was to realize their dream of building and operating the largest and most modern packing plant in the world. Construction on the four story main building was completed in one year beginning in March 1916 at a cost of $300,000 USD. The five story adjacent ice house was built in 1926 at a cost of $100,000 USD.
The vast majority of plant buildings in Pueblo are of reinforced concrete construction with exterior walls clad in brick. Geometric Art Deco detailing executed in stone is usually found evenly spaced along upper story beltcourses of patterned brick. The building facades are all brick with period architectural design features. This detail signifies buildings designed by Henschien. In addition to the Pueblo Plant, Henschien designed, in whole or in part, Rath Packing Co. (Iowa), John Morrell & Co.(Iowa), Jacob E. Decker & Sons (Iowa), Dubuque Packing (Iowa), and the Richter Sausage Co. (Illinois), to name just a few.
The buildings were located in the direct path of the Great Flood of 1921 along the Arkansas River but credit is given to the architects unique construction of the 250,000 square foot plant as the absence of any load bearing walls helped save the structure from significant damage. After the waters receded it took less than 90 days to repair the plant and several pictures taken after the aftermath show the Nuckolls Packing Co. standing as a “beacon of hope to all of Pueblo.” The Nuckolls Family, Red Cross, and Elks Lodge joined forces and set up offices for the flood recovery effort at the Nuckolls Packing Co. in the Grove.