By Cathy Ingalls, Albany Regional Museum board member
Martha Dayton of Lewisburg, formerly of Salem, recalls finding the tastiest hams in Oregon after she moved here in about 1971 from New York City.
“I bought Nebergall hams from a meat market in West Salem, and they were absolutely A-1,” she recalled. “I put them in casseroles and baked them with red kidney beans with the bone in.
“A memorable flavor,” Dayton said, “and it was so sad when I could no longer get them.”
Dayton is referring to the flavor of the smoked hams packaged between 1915 and 1974 by the D.E. Nebergall Meat Co. at its plant in Albany located at Front Avenue and Waverly Drive. Nebergall’s regularly supplied retailers with a variety of meat products in an area primarily bounded to the east by the Cascades, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the north by Tillamook and to Ashland in the south.
Five salesmen serviced the area once a week.
Not only were the company’s hams popular, employees produced pounds of fresh pork, fresh pork sausage, salami, lard, picnic shoulders, braunschweiger, liver sausage, minced ham, lunch meat, polish sausage, bacon, bologna, German sausage and thuringer.
An advertisement in a March 1963 edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald announced that the plant’s capacity recently was increased by 50 percent and workers used the “latest humane methods for killing animals.” And the owners had installed a new type of vacuum packaging machine, one of only two found on the West Coast.
A story that ran in the newspaper on March 23, 1968, noted that the meat company was one of the largest industries in Albany, employing 115 people with an annual payroll of $950,000.
Founder Donald E. Nebergall, referred to in his June 1958 obituary as an industrialist and civic leader, was born in Cuba, Ill., on Dec. 10, 1875, and settled in Colorado and Montana before ill health forced him to move to Albany with his meat grinder in 1911.
Upon his arrival, he established a retail meat market on Lyon Street between Third and Fourth avenues, later moving to Second Avenue and Montgomery Street and then to Second and Lyon.
He later sold his Albany retail outlets, preferring to sell his products wholesale. He also operated a slaughterhouse at Linnore Park, about two miles east of Albany.
At first, meat products were sold under the Linnore brand and then packaging labels were changed to read DENCO, which utilized Nebergall’s initials and CO, that stood for the word company.
At the beginning, Nebergall employed 10 skilled butchers and sausage makers.
In 1930, Nebergall bought a slaughterhouse in Eugene, so he could better supply meat to the southern end of the state but that plant later was destroyed by fire. Also in Eugene, Nebergall operated a hotel and he was a restaurant supplier.
Then after 58 years of packaging meat, it was announced that the D.E. Nebergall Co. considered to be an Albany industrial landmark now owned by Swift and Co. of Chicago after a merger in 1966, would close its doors by March 1974.
Plant manager Roy J. Siemsen told the Democrat-Herald “for the past few years, earnings at Nebergall have been increasingly unsatisfactory and there is no indication that an improvement can be expected in the future.”
Bill Dillman, a company spokesman, told the DH that Swift had been restructuring its meat and food operations over the past four years, and the reorganization had resulted in the closure of about 250 plants and sales locations across the country.
Siemsen also said that although the Albany plant was shutting down, Nebergall-brand products would be manufactured at other Swift facilities.
It was said at the time of the plant’s closing, that had Nebergall’s daughter, the late Esther Ferguson, been in charge of the meat company, it never would have been bought out by Swift.
Nebergall did not live long enough to see his operation sold.
Before his death at age 82, Nebergall was a charter member and past president of the Albany Rotary Club, a director of the American Meat Institute of Chicago, was the first president of the Linn County Health and Tuberculosis Association, was a past president of the Albany First National Bank, was a member of the Al Kader Shrine and St. John’s Lodge No. 17 AF&AM, he was a director for 19 years of the Albany Elementary School District, he was a past president of the Albany chamber of commerce and he was active in the Methodist church.
He was survived by his wife, Lilla, who he married in 1909, six children, 11 grandchildren, 13-great-grandchildren, a sister and a niece.
He and his wife, who died in 1969, were placed in a vault at Willamette Memorial Park in Albany.
More information about the company and photographs of the meat packing plant can be found at the Albany Regional Museum, 136 Lyon St. S.