Mary Clyde Streett, Spenceola Farm owner

Harford County resident helped run her family's Spenceola Farm, once a well-known tomato-canning operation

December 31, 2009|By Jacques Kelly

Mary Clyde Streett, who helped operate a once-thriving Harford County tomato cannery, died of dementia Dec. 26 at the Bel Air Convalescent Center. She was 98.

Born Mary Clyde Spencer in Forest Hill, she worked alongside her father in his canning operation in Frogtown, between Bel Air and Forest Hill. Their Spenceola Farm was once a well-known tomato-canning hub.

Before graduating from Bel Air High School in 1929, she rode to classes in a horse-drawn buggy.

"Her yearbook called her the 'bright light' of the class," said her son, Dr. Richard P. Streett Jr. of Churchville. "It also said, 'She is not your friend one day and your enemy the next.' "

She later attended Union Memorial Hospital Nurse's Training School and worked at the Commercial and Savings Bank on Main Street in Bel Air.

In 1933, she married Richard P. Streett. They ran her family farm and raised Guernsey dairy cattle and Aberdeen Angus beef cattle in addition to tending hay, grain and 100 acres of tomatoes.

Mrs. Streett was at her busiest during the tomato season from about July 4 until shortly after Labor Day, her son said. In order to pick the crop, she recruited seasonal labor from Baltimore. He said that Polish families would come to Harford County for the summer and live in cabins. They were given metal tokens for the quantity of tomatoes they picked.

Mrs. Streett counted the tokens and acted as payroll clerk.

"My mother was excellent in math and book work," her son said. "She sorted the tomatoes and directed them into the filling machines, too."

Spenceola Farm prospered in the 1930s and 1940s. The family had its own Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad siding for shipping its canned goods, which were labeled under the Spenceola name or carried the store-brand labels of grocery chains.

Family members said that after canning 50,000 cases of tomatoes in 1951 the cannery ceased operation. They preserved the canning house, which is now the home of CNA Engineering. Mrs. Streett later donated the canning apparatus, labels and the metal checks to the Steppingstone Museum in Havre de Grace.

"She was the most determined, hard-working, stubborn and lovable person I've ever known," her son said.

As families moved from Baltimore to Harford County, she and her husband developed their land under the names Spenceola and Marywood, named after Mrs. Streett's mother, Mary Estelle.

Mrs. Streett worked for the Forest Hill State Bank and did part-time work for the Harford County treasurer's office during the 1950 and 1960s.

She cultivated a large flower garden. She raised annuals from seed and also tended some perennials. She exhibited her flowers at the Harford County Fair and the Maryland State Fair.

"If my mother had a demon, it was alcohol," her son said, adding that she sought help from Father Joseph Martin, a renowned counselor. After becoming sober at age 75, she attended 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days. She later helped others to conquer their addictions.

She was also active in the Farm Bureau, 4-H, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Harford County Highland Society and the Democratic Club.

Mrs. Streett rallied to save the 1792 St. Ignatius Church in Hickory after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese ordered it closed in 1967 when a roof timber developed a crack. She and others worked to have a steel reinforcement beam added. The restored church reopened in 1970. Her funeral was held there Wednesday.

In 1981 she was named a "Harford County Living Treasure."

In addition to her son, survivors include nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. A son, Dr. C. Spencer Streett, died in 2001. Her husband of 52 years died in 1985.

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