EUREKA — There's new life at the cannery in downtown Eureka. But they're throwing rice instead of pumpkins.
Before transferring packing operations were transferred to Morton, the cannery was at the center of things in Eureka. Long before Morton, it was Eureka that proclaimed itself pumpkin capital of the world. The town held a pumpkin parade that drew thousands including Eureka College grad Ronald Reagan, then a Hollywood movie star, back to town as parade grand marshal in 1947.
When Libby's closed the Eureka cannery in 1960, that ended the city's claims to pumpkin greatness — although the parades continued for a couple of more years.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Brandon and Amy Knapp, the old building at 201 N. Major St. has been transformed into a banquet center, drawing special attention as a place to hold wedding receptions.
"We bought one of the cannery buildings two-and-a-half years ago for storage," said Brandon Knapp, who runs the Knapp Tile & Flooring business a few blocks away on the city's Main Street.
"It was Amy's idea to buy another building here for event space," he said of the structures that make up the cannery site. The Knapps rent out space for a store at the site while another cannery building houses a woodworking shop.
On Friday afternoon as snow swirled outside, the Cannery, its official name with a capital "C," awaited 225 guests for a wedding reception that evening. "We've had five wedding parties here already along with a class reunion, bridal shower and Christmas party," said Amy Knapp, referring to business that's come their way since the facility opened in September.
Most of the bookings now come from area residents, folks who recall or have relatives who remember the role the cannery once played in this community, she said.
"It means a lot to get married in the cannery," said Amy Knapp.
While renovations started last April to get a building, originally constructed in 1895, ready for guests, the work isn't done yet, said Brandon Knapp, 37. "This is phase one. Phase two involves enclosing the courtyard outside," he said, motioning out the window. "People will be able to have private functions outside."
Amy Knapp, 36, added that work on "the north building" is expected to be completed by next fall that will provide a place for brides to get ready before going down the aisle. That will make the Cannery a one-stop wedding shop, allowing for ceremony and party under the same roof.
The parents of three children, two girls and a boy, ages 10 to 13, the Knapps call the Cannery "a family endeavor."
"They like it. They know it takes a lot of our time but the kids pitch in and help set up, too," said Amy Knapp.
The year ahead looks bright for the banquet center. "Most Saturdays are already booked for 2018. And we're booking Fridays and Sundays, as well," she said.
The Cannery makes for a unique venue, said Amy Knapp. "It's not just another hotel ballroom," she said.
The rehabbing of a structure that has languished for years but now brings people to town is not lost on city officials. "It's obviously part of the rejuvenation of Eureka," said Richard Teegarden, the town's second-ward alderman.
"The old Libby's factory was just sitting there all these years. It's been used for other things but nothing like this. It gives people options. Giving it a facelift means people can do things in town and not have to leave to go someplace else," he said.
"I recently attended a Christmas party there. It was very nice," said Teegarden.
Brandon Knapp, meanwhile, stays busy with the tile and flooring business he's run for the past 10 years. "I was in charge of the build-out (at the Cannery). My part's done," he said, turning to his wife.
Acknowledging the amount of work that lies ahead as activity at the Cannery picks up, Amy Knapp just smiled. "We hope to have core staff in place by spring," she said.
Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Tweeter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.