Essay Project 2021: The New Era Potato Chip Silo
By Jessie Whitford
“As future craftsmen reconstruct your every joint and truss, may history be as kind to you as you have been to us.” (Talada). When I was younger my mother used to sort newspapers. We would have to go to the storage units there on Grand River and every Friday I would go help her sort papers. We would pass by the New Era silo every time. It always stuck out to me and I was suddenly intrigued by it and its significance. In a way, it is engraved in my mind as a symbol for those memories with my mom. Similar to my little story, there are many people in Portland that have some connection to this silo whether it be big or little.
Although the company name of New Era, along with the silo it is broadcasted on, is widely known in Portland, it was also a major company and brand in Detroit. New Era was known to be one of the largest potato chip manufacturers in Detroit with one of their total of four plants in the midwest being in Detroit. It shared the spotlight with another company called Better Made Potato Chips which eventually beat out New Era to become superior. Along with those two giants, there were just around 40 other brands such as Krun-Chee, Vita Boy, Evercrisp, Mello Krisp, and many more (Robinson). By 1981, about 20 of these companies had gone out of business due to the rising prices of potatoes and labor costs (Baulch). Frito-Lay bought New Era and that has since been the end of the company. The significance of the silo not only includes the history of New Era as a company but the history of the actual silo.
The Schrauben family has very large connections to this silo and the history of it. The Shrauben family were the original owners of the land the silo sits on. The original silo was built by Isadore Shrauben in the 1940s. At this time it was a regular silo used for the feed on the farm. In an interview with Dewey Shrauben, he informed me the owner of the farmland, his father Isadore, was offered 99$ a year for it to be painted with that logo on it. Eventually, when the expressway went through, they quit paying to keep the silo painted in that specific way. There was then an attempt to paint over it in a grey color which shortly washed off due to rain. It was then repainted with the same logo by a family member of the Shraubens in 2005 and then once again in 2013. It hasn’t been torn down for its sake of being a cherished building that has been around for a long time. It is a well-known building and carries many memories and reminders for anyone in connection with it including the Shrauben family and now Chris Smith who is the current owner. The well-known New Era silo isn’t the only building that has been around for some time. Portland is almost a hot spot for history.
There is a large spread of historic buildings and places in Portland. The New Era silo isn’t the only historic structure in this town. There are many connections to history whether it be a logo, building, or business. New Era is among many attractions that are still standing and in use in the town of Portland today. A couple of these attractions are the old opera house and the still running Portland Playhouse. John Kortes along with his sons Howard and Russell owned some movie theaters throughout Michigan. They had hopes of building one in the town of Portland for a while but due to lack of resources couldn’t build it until 1949. It welcomed many audiences to enjoy the content they were giving out. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Kortes until its purchase by the Portland Civic Players in 1971 (The Sun Theater/Portland Playhouse 2). It is now used frequently for plays and other entertainment. Another building used for entertainment is the old opera house. Portland’s Opera house has been in use since 1880. It was used frequently for theatrical events and musicals until the rise of motion pictures (Portland’s Opera House 5). Even though the building is no longer used for what it was intended for, the building has stood strong and accommodated many people for many different reasons. Under all of the renovations done to these buildings, there is a great deal of history.
Small towns have a way of latching onto people and leaving marks that are impossible to forget. There are so many stories and little memories that live in each person’s head that have a connection to places, people, and objects. Portland is the home to many of those memories and connections big or small. Even a small silo on the side of a small town road can mean the most to the right person.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.