Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mr. Manning's Corn Cakes & an Acre Memory

Manning Advertisement
A small parade of men and boys made their way down Broadway Street in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood on an October evening of 1868.  It was just before the big presidential election of that year.  The marchers carried torches and sang political songs supporting their candidate, Ulysses S Grant.  It was a heated contest that year, and boys were stationed along the parade route to keep an eye on any “missiles” that might be thrown at the marchers.  When they approached the corner of School and Broadway the group came to a halt to unfurl a flag as the crowd joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner. Speeches were made and the flag was suspended between William Manning’s shop and the opposite street corner.
Mr. Manning had just opened the shop a few months before.  He probably didn’t realize that Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes would become a national sensation and last for decades.  Manning, a relative of the well known Manning family of the Manning Manse in Billerica, had experimented with different types of popping corn and received a patent from the US Patent Office after perfecting a popping machine.  He purchased an acre of land on Broadway Street and built his empire. 
The basement contained the popping room, which used 5000 bushels of corn and 100 hogsheads of molasses a year.  Four large kettles were kept busy on the bottom floor and 12 more on the first floor to make corn cakes.  Horse power was used to grind the corn.  Large cutting knives were used to cut the cakes.  Later, Manning diversified into making corn balls and a variety of other products..  His cakes sold two for a penny. 
The business quickly prospered with 6 buildings taking up the corner.  Stables for the horses and storage sheds were added to fill the demand for corncakes.  The fame of Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes quickly spread from the Acre, across the city, state, and eventually the country.  Mr. Manning was nearly 90 when a broken hip led to his demise and death in 1923.  The business was sold and the land transferred over to a roofing company.  And all of this started in a corner shop in the Acre.
As soon as I saw the advertisement for Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes,  I was taken with his story. I had to find out more about him and his Acre connection.  I think few in my age group would forget buying corn cakes and old-fashioneds.  I’m not sure if it’s just a Lowell, or New England thing.  Finding corncakes today is a rarity.  Most are poor imitations of the original.  I recently found such an example at a local “candy house.”  It was a quarter size of the original and about $3 or $4.  The worst travesty was that it was not a real corn cake or an real old-fashioned.  As a kid I might get mine from the BC on Merrimack Street or more likely at Ovie’s on Broadway.  There was an unwritten rule that one did not buy them in mid-summer. The corn cake would be too sticky and the old-fashioned would melt too easily.  If memory serves, the pair cost a nickel.  I doubt anything will ever equal the memory of sitting on the stoop, taking out the corn cake from the brown paper bag; smelling the caramel, feeling the sticky sweetness, and finally squashing the vanilla crème drop onto the corn cake.  Ahh, youth!

What's your corn cake memory?


  1. I don't know where my parents bought them, but I sure remember eating the corn cakes! Squishing the candy on top was fun. I wish I had one to eat right now!

  2. I too enjoyed the corn cakes and old fashions as a boy. I have seen them in the past for sale at a local ice cream stand on Boston Rd. in East Chelmsford.

  3. I want to get some - tell me how........giggle!