Sidetracked (Potato Chip Plant)

By Darla Sathre (from The Depot Express newsletter, Winter 2014)

by Darla Sathre

As I was filing newspaper articles one day, the following few sentences, written by Rosemary Given Amble in 1995, caught my eye: “Bemidji’s industries in 1937 included several lumber mills and kindred activities. We still have some of those. We no longer have the railroad shops, butter and cream factories, the flour mill, the potato chip plant, nor the brick plant.”

Potato chip plant? I thought that was worth a sidetrack! I learned that it was called Witting Company. I looked in a 1942 city directory, and they were the only listing under the Potato Chip Manufacturers heading. They were located at 406 Minnesota Avenue. By 1946 there was a hardware store in that location. By 1976 it was, and still is, the location of Dress Club Cleaners. One old timer reminisced about her family taking a car ride to town and parking in front of the potato chip factory just for the enjoyment of inhaling the enticing aroma!

I found two names associated with the Witting Potato Chip Company: Winthrop C. Batchelder (1904-1962) of South Lake Irving, a city councilman for the 4th Ward; and Henning Thompson (1891-1965), a cook for the potato chip company.

As a sidetrack, did you know that it takes four pounds of raw potatoes to make one pound of potato chips? The average person eats six pounds of potato chips per year. An acre of land yields between 300-400 bushels of potatoes.

Bemidji also had a potato flour factory. During World War I, wheat was needed to feed the troops. To conserve on wheat, using potato flour was the patriotic thing to do. One carload of potatoes yielded 7,200 pounds of potato flour.

All this potato talk made me hungry. So I looked through the Bemidji Centennial Cookbook and found a recipe for “Amy’s Potatoes” on page 67 shared by Pat DeWenter.

“Amy’s Potatoes”
Bemidji Centennial Cookbook, Shared by Pat DeWenter, p. 67.

3 to 4 Potatoes ½ tsp Salt
¼ cup Parmesan Cheese ¼ tsp Pepper
¼ cup Flour ⅓ cup Butter

Peel potatoes. (Since I used wonderful red potatoes, I left the peel on!) Cut into strips as for French Fries. Rinse in cold water; pat dry. Mix cheese, flour, salt, and pepper in large brown bag. (I used a Tupperware bowl with a lid.) Add potatoes; toss well. Melt butter on 9 x 13 pan. Add potatoes. Bake at 375degrees for 1 hour, turning occasionally to brown evenly. Serves 4.

One thought on “Sidetracked (Potato Chip Plant)

  1. What a great article. Sidelined indeed! More of these wonderful stories are what bring our history to life. Keep up the good work! Bet anyone in the city can just smell those chips. wonder what happened to the Chip factory?
    I knew Mr. Batchelder as he lived by us on South Lake Irving Dr. His wife was Blanche and son Carter.

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