Monday, January 21, 2013

Ft. Lupton Sugar Beet Factory (1920-1948)

After two years(!), it's time to finish up the tour of the almost-all extinct northern Colorado sugar beet factories.  Three more to go.  We left off at the Brighton factory which was opened in 1917A second sugar beet boom was in full progress with factories sprouting up in neighboring states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. 

Next up in Colorado was the factory in Ft. Lupton which was built in 1920.   The Ft. Lupton plant was was not financed or constructed by Great Western Sugar like many of the previous factories.  And, it had the shortest run (28 years) of all of them.

Fueled by the new beet boom and the sentiment of some farmers who weren't happy with what Great Western was paying them, the Industrial Sugar Company (ISC) was formed in 1919, headquartered in Denver. ISC positioned themselves as the friend of the farmer and an alternative to GW, as shown by this newspaper report on ISC:
Exceptionally large profits have been made by other sugar companies in this state and the Industrial company takes the position that the farmers and the ranchers should be direct beneficiaries in the profits of the sugar industry, which amount to several million dollars annually.
In deciding where to build their sugar beet factories, ISC considered many candidates including Berthoud, Sedgewick, Milliken, Lafayette, Johnstown, and Kersey before they announced plans to build in Ft. Lupton and LaSalle.  Factory fever was back during this second boom of sugar beets and every city wanted one. 

The Ft. Lupton plant was constructed along what is US-85 today, near the South Platte River.  It opened on Monday, October 11, 1920 with a processing capacity of 600 tons per day and employed 300 people.  As a reference, the larger factories in Ft. Collins and Longmont were processing 1200 tons a day.  In the Ft. Collins Courier, it was noted that all eyes of the sugar industry were watching this small independent factory that was built in the heart of Great Western territory.  

Industrial Sugar immediately fell into trouble.   In February 1921, the Ft. Collins Courier reported a series of lawsuits against ISC by farmers and stockholders claiming fraud and misrepresentation.  The ISC LaSalle factory, which was supposed to open in 1921, never got started despite having selected its site and awarding a contract to build it. It became well known that the Ft. Lupton factory was losing money and already there were rumors that Great Western was trying to acquire it.  ISC was indeed in the red and they declared bankruptcy in 1922. The court eventually ruled that ISC assets including the Ft. Lupton factory were to be moved to a similarly named receiver called the  Independent Sugar CompanyThe factory continued to struggle, however and Ft. Lupton just could not compete, as Candy Hamilton wrote:
Part of the problem was the factory's limited capacity and inability to process enough beets to make it profitable.  But the primary reason it suffered was due to the unrelenting, stifling competition from the Great Western Sugar Company. 
But happily for the town of Ft. Lupton, the acquisition rumors eventually became true:  Great Western bought the struggling plant in 1925, saving jobs and the factory itself.

Great Western kept Ft. Lupton running for another twenty-two years, through the Depression and WWII, but economics eventually forced its closure.  The factory was too small, and expansion was not worth the investment given the efficiencies and scale of the other large Colorado GW factories, including a modern new plant on the eastern plains (our next visit) with a huge capacity.

Today, nestled in a northern Ft. Lupton industrial park, you can still see what's left of the sugar factory.  Like in Brush and Ft. Collins, the factory is long gone but the brick warehouse survives

It doesn't look much different than this Denver Public Library archival picture from 1978:

But it does look like it's in good shape:

Railroad tracks heading to the vanished factory:

Moving on to other parts of town, Ft. Lupton's museum is housed in their old library (not a Carnegie Library but it sounds like it was modeled after one).  It was unfortunately closed the day of this picture.

And just west of town, there is a nice pedestrian bridge over the Platte in Pearson Park:

South Platte River, during a low flowing part of the year:

Continuing series on the northeastern Colorado beet sugar factories:

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