Friday, July 3, 2009

Longmont Sugar Beet Factory, Part II

A recent query to Johnny St. Vrain (JSV) in the Longmont Times-Call has reminded me to supply part two to the Longmont Sugar Beet Factory posting! The writer asked JSV if there was a way to get approval to get inside the factory to take pictures. The answer from the property owners was (paraphrased): No, it is too dangerous because of asbestos and other hazards. The owners also supplied a short status update, saying they are still evaluating the future of the property.

Now, on to more about the factory.

If you've seen the stately Callahan House in Longmont, you may be interested in knowing that Thomas Callahan supplied brick to the sugar factory, as a contractor. Callahan received dividends from the sugar company, some of which he used to fund his assistant, James Cash Penney, in starting his retail chain store in Wyoming and Colorado. It played a small part, for sure, but next time you see a J. C. Penney store, think about some sugar made in Longmont.

One of two vast coal pits on the eastern side of the factory:


To control costs, Great Western owned every leg in the coal supply chain: the mines in Wyoming, the railroads between the mines and the factories, and the labor along the way. Coal fueled the enormous steam boilers, used to power the plant.

Powdered lime was another key ingredient in making sugar from beets. The lime was mixed in to the sugar beet juice to remove impurities and chemically neutralize the solution. Later on in the process, the lime was filtered out and eventually dumped near the factory. Some factories, like the one in Longmont, made their own lime powder by bringing in bringing in limestone from a Laramie, WY quarry (again, Great Western owned the end-to-end mining and transportation process), and heating it up in factory kilns to produce the lime powder.

The two limestone kilns were housed in a separate building from the factory (notice the two vents on the roof).

Today outside the Longmont factory, like in Eaton, you can see mounds of discarded lime powder:

There is an estimated 700,000 tons of lime here, and the property owners are slowly selling it off. In the past few years, the EPA has bought 15,000 tons to help neutralize acidic mine waste at Leadville's California Gulch Superfund site. Farmers buy the lime, too, to improve their soil.

In the beet sugar boom years of the early part of the century, the sugar company had a large number of employees temporarily stationed in Longmont, perhaps to get trained to operate other factories, or learn methods from the experimental beet growing station set up in 1910, east of the factory. Again, wanting to own the entire process, and also deal with a room and housing shortage in Longmont, Great Western built a hotel in downtown Longmont to house these workers.

Built to accomodate 100 employees, the hotel was constructed in 1919 on the site of an existing hotel which was moved from Burlington. After being used to house WWII prisoners, it was converted to an apartment building, which is still in use today:


This hotel probably played a role in the story of the head Longmont Librarian who mysteriously left in 1926. We can guess that her future husband (a Great Western employee who was assigned to the new Ovid, CO factory just being completed) was staying in the hotel while in town for some training, and likely was a frequent visitor to the library just a block away. Cue up the romance!

The Longmont Sugar Factory was closed in 1977, giving it a lifetime of 74 years.


Next up, Ft. Collins!

Continuing series on the northeast Colorado beet sugar factories:




1 comment:

Historic Nelson Ranch Woodland CA said...

We are looking for information pertaining to the former Imperial, Amstar and Holly Sugar - AKA Spreckles Sugar site in Woodland CA. This includes contamination both in soil, groundwater and air from lime piles, UST's, PCB's, buried Asbestos, Hex Cr, Lead Acetate, Aluminum and other issues. If you have any information please contact brenda@historicnelsonranch.com