Friday, January 14, 2011

Brighton Sugar Factory (1917-1977)

Time to pick up the Northeastern Colorado sugar beet factory series again!

We last left off in 1906 with the Ft. Morgan plant, which marked the end of the first wave of factories in the area that started with Loveland.  Investment in new Colorado factories after Ft. Morgan went quiet, partially because of the Underwood-Simmons Act of 1913 which cut the tariff on imported sugar from places like the Philippines and Cuba.   Sugar prices dropped leaving beet sugar more vulnerable in competing with imported cane sugar.  Great Western dealt with the problem by paying beet farmers less which naturally strained the factory/grower relationship and left great uncertainty about the future of Colorado beet sugar. 

World War I changed everything.  At the time, 50% the world's sugar was coming from Europe and this production and supply was cut off by the war.  Demand for sugar skyrocketed thus starting a second wave of factory investment in NE Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Originally named Hughes, Brighton is in the South Platte valley and benefited greatly in agriculture from the construction of large irrigation systems along the river.  The Brighton community had been interested in its own beet sugar factory since at least 1901 and got their first one with  the Keyes Syrup Company plant (Keyes was the name of its general manager) which was built in 1906 on donated land.   The factory didn't live long and closed a year later.  Candy Hamilton's book tells the complete story of the failure which can be summarized by saying that this independent factory was already surrounded by GW growers and had a difficult time competing for farmers to grow beets.

Ten years later, Brighton tried again.  The Farmers and Merchants of Adams County successfully convinced Great Western to build a Brighton sugar beet factory.  It didn't hurt that 1916 was a boom year for Colorado beets, surpassing all previous records with a whopping 2.7 million tons of beets processed vs. 1.7M in 1914 (the Longmont factory was the top producer in the state for 1916, paying out $1,125,000 to farmers).  The Larrowe Construction Company of Detroit got the $1,500,000 contract for the factory and machinery, and GW fully billed Brighton as a "showcase for the corporation."

Brighton Sugar Factory circa 1918

Being the closest GW factory to Denver, the Brighton factory was designed for visitors and dignitaries in mind, having landscaped lawns and shrubs, a gated entrance, and a modern administration building.  President Eisenhower was probably the most famous visitor to the Brighton factory, stopping by on a Tuesday, September 14, 1954. 

The Brighton factory operated for 60 years until 1977, closing the same year as the Longmont factory. It's record processing day was 2,678 tons on November 30, 1964 (from Hamilton's book). 

Today, the Brighton factory still stands along north Main Street and is owned by Amalgamated Sugar.  Until recently, some of the factory equipment was still up for sale on the company web site and part of the site is still used for warehousing today.  Unlike other remaining GW factories, Brighton has its grounds fenced off from a noticeable distance.
These pictures are from January 2009  but I don't think things have changed much.  All are from the eastern side of the factory.

The Brighton factory and its Administration Building

One of the factory entrances
In the visit to the Ft. Collins factory site, I mentioned that one other GW factory had potential for partial preservation.  Brighton was the one I was thinking of.  Candy Hamilton, however, notes in her book that the western side of this factory is not as well-kept.

Silos are in good shape and freshly painted

Is this a self-incriminating picture ?

Tracks to the factory
A good overview of the history of Brighton can be found in the 2009 book "Brighton" by Albin Wagner, part of the "Images of America" series.  978.872 WAG in the Longmont Libary.
Continuing series on the northeastern Colorado beet sugar factories:


lalapapawawa said...

I bet it's haunted.
They should use it for movies - it's kind of sinister looking.

GW-Holly-WCBS said...

As I understand it was used for a movie back about 1985. The sugar warehouse was the site of several prison scenes of some obscure movie. The movie had as its star Lyle Alzado, a former Denver Bronco and Oakland Raider football player.

William Taylor said...

For the demolition, when are they blasting the giant smoke stack