If you have read my About Me page, you know I collect vintage images of Fort Collins and the surrounding area. The one place I go somewhat farther afield is with sugar beet photographs. I admit to a love affair with images of anything sugar beet related. In this area, I go beyond Larimer County and collect images of the 13 sugar beet facilities that are classified as Northern Colorado factories. I’ve shared images from three of these locations in the past, Fort Collins and Loveland, in separate posts on their sugar beet factories, and Windsor, CO, as part of a post on the town. (I’ve placed links to these posts at the end of this article.) In this post, I’m going to share my images of the Johnstown, CO facility.
Much of the information on the Johnstown facility comes from Footprints in the Sugar: A History of the Great Western Sugar Company, a behemoth of a book by Candy Hamilton.
In 1901, the Loveland sugar beet processing factory opened and many farmers, including those in Johnstown, were growing sugar beets. In the fall, beets had to be harvested, loaded into wagons, and transported to beet dumps for transfer to rail cars. Below are some photographs of the process in Johnstown, CO.
The note on the back of the postcard identifies the driver of the wagon, “Harry, this will look natural to you. It is Ed Miller driving one of Will Purvis’s teams.” Maybe someone out there will recognize these names.
Every small town in Northern Colorado made postcards like this one, with groups of wagons, filled with sugar beets, coming to the local beet processing plant or to a rail siding to transfer their beets to rail cars. Below is a close-up of the crowd.
This is a great example of an early beet dump. I used it in an earlier post on beet dumps. The link to that post is shown below:
By 1910, sugar beet processing plants were going up all around Northern Colorado. Johnstown, despite its small population of around 200 people, wanted its own plant. Milliken, an even smaller town a few miles east of Johnstown, offered to assist in the effort. It took a while and a great deal of effort but on May 6, 1920, the Great Western Sugar Company (GWS) announced its intention to build a sugar beet factory between Johnstown and Milliken. Plans were drawn up and the plant was expected to be ready for the 1921 harvest. But, in late 1920, just months after construction started on the plant, the world sugar market collapsed, and work on the facility was halted.
GWS used the time wisely. Sugar beet possessors were struggling with the problem of what to do with discard molasses, the syrup that remains after the beets were processed. While sugar remained in the molasses, it couldn’t be economically extracted. Instead, the byproduct was sold for pennies as livestock feed. GWS was determined to use this time to find a way to successfully extract the sugar from the molasses.
GWS sent a team to Germany and France to study how they were handling molasses. The team returned with an idea and a plan that would use the unfinished Johnstown plant to process the molasses from all their sugar beet factories. New plans were drawn up, construction re-started, and the new Johnstown Molasses Desugarizing plant was operating in October 1926.
This image was made just prior to the plant’s grand opening. It ran in a newspaper with this caption:
Biggest of Its Kind in World – Million-dollar sugar beet molasses desugarizing plant erected at Johnstown, Colo., by the Great Western Sugar company, which will be formally dedicated Thursday, Oct. 28. This is the largest plant of its kind in the world and will add much to the prosperity of northern Colorado. The public is invited to attend the dedication.
On opening day, 4,000 visitors toured the plant. German sugar technologists visited the plant in 1928 writing, “What we have seen at Johnstown really astonished us.” The small community of Johnstown was now home to one of the most unique sugar plants in the world.
The Johnstown facility stayed relatively stable until April 1953, when GWS decided to build a monosodium glutamate (MSG) plant adjacent to the sugar facility. MSG had become an important flavor enhancer for many food products. Construction was quickly underway.
This was another newspaper photograph printed on January 1, 1954 with the caption:
Under construction currently at Johnstown is this monosodium glutamate factory of the Great Western Sugar Co. When completed in October 1954, it will employ some 120 workers.
An imposing four-story structure, the new MSG plant opened in November 1954.
About the same time Johnstown’s MSG plant opened, the Fort Collins sugar beet factory closed. Sugar beets were beginning to run into hard times. One-by-one the Northern Colorado sugar plants closed. In 1977, the Johnstown plants heard the news of their closure.
This photograph was from the Denver Post and ran in the newspaper on January 5, 1977 with a short caption: “Mike Evans, left, and Ernie Anderson discuss plant closings. Both will lose their jobs as mechanics when Johnstown facility shuts down.”
According to Footprints in the Sugar, both the molasses and MSG plants were closed. The plants sat idle until 1983 when Adolph Coors Co. bought the facility. Coors ran parts of the plant, under several different names, until it sold the facility to Colorado Sweet Gold (CSG), in February 1991. CSG used the plant to make cornstarch and related products. On August 3, 2001, CSG closed the plant and auctioned off much of the equipment. In 2005, many of the buildings were torn down.
CSG apparently still owns the property, their sign is still on the entrance, though I couldn’t find what it is being used for today, if anything. Below are two “now” photographs of the site, located on State Highway 60, between Johnstown and Milliken.
Below are the links to my earlier posts on the Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor sugar beet plants.
Windsor Town Link