The Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory: The Smell of Prosperity

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, North Side, c. 1910. Real Photo Postcard by F. P. Clatworthy.

Perhaps more than any other single event, the arrival of a sugar beet factory propelled Fort Collins, Colorado into the 20th century and the industrial age. The high-plains climate and terrain in the area proved well suited to this large root crop; by the turn of the century processing factories began to appear in Colorado, but not in Fort Collins.

Denver entrepreneur Charles Boettcher and others saw the potential for a Fort Collins plant. So business and community leaders formed a committee to raise capital for a sugar factory and to secure guarantees from farmers for 5,000 acres of sugar beets. On October 13, 1903, the committee made its first payment to Kilby Manufacturing for the Fort Collins factory. The factory was even underway before the first official payment. Below is a construction photograph, dated October 18, 1903.

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Construction of the Fort Collins Sugar Beet Plant, October 18, 1903. Unknown Photographer.

You can already see some of the gears, pipes, and vats that will make up the processing plant. If you look closely, one young man’s face is circled. On the back of the photograph is his name, John Siebenaler. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on him or the Siebenaler family in Fort Collins.

The plant opened here in 1904, near the Poudre River and the railroad tracks on the east side of the small town. At 10 o’clock on Monday morning, January 6, 1904, the Fort Collins sugar beet factory began to refine sugar. The Fort Collins Weekly Courier reported that the “event was signalized by the blowing of whistles, the ringing of bells, the firing of cannon and the hearty rejoicing of the people.”

Here is an image of the plant taken within a year or two of its start-up.

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, South Side, c. 1905. Printed Postcard.

This postcard has a message that gives some idea of the pride the plant brought to the community. “Uncle Ed: This is the Sugar Factory. I do wish you could see the beets they are hauling here. The crops are fine. Some of the beets weight from six to ten pounds. Addie.”

The 120-acre complex was located on the southeast corner of Vine and Linden Streets. It had seven major buildings, the central building measuring 70 feet by 300 feet and standing four stories tall. The facility cost a staggering $1.2 million and employed hundreds of workers.

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, West End, c. 1930. Printed Postcard

The factory received sugar beets from farmers’ wagons and from railcars and sent them through a complex, multi-stage process that produced refined sugar. But the sugar beet business was more than a factory. It also was an agricultural hub of beet farmers, rail sidings, beet dumps, irrigation ditches, and a host of suppliers, all funneling money into the Fort Collins community. (See an earlier post entitled “The Sugar Beet Dump.”) The 150-foot smoke stack declared that big agribusiness had arrived in Fort Collins.


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“Extracting Beet Sugar” Diagram by the Great Western Sugar Company, c. 1920

As this diagram from a bulletin produced by the Great Western Sugar Company shows, sugar refining was as much a chemical as an agricultural process. Pumps, pipes, slicers, distillers, centrifuges, and filters were all part of a highly technical process that produced an average of 10 teaspoons of refined sugar from each beet. The Fort Collins factory also included a Steffen House, a secondary process that extracted more sugar from molasses, usually a waste product of the refining process. The Greeley, Eaton, and Windsor factories shipped their molasses to Fort Collins for processing.

Experiments by the agricultural college and others found that the waste products of the beet industry, the beet tops cut off in the fields and the beet pulp and molasses from the factory, made nutritious feed for livestock. This fostered the cattle and sheep industries in Northern Colorado. Although beet pulp had an unfortunate odor (the pungent smell compared to “a slaughterhouse in midsummer,” by one man), Colorado’s former governor Benjamin Eaton said, “I smell prosperity.”

The 10 teaspoons of sugar per beet adds up when your are processing millions of beets. Below is a photograph of the bags of sugar, circa 1930.

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Bags of Sugar, Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, c. 1930. Photographer Unknown.

The Great Western Sugar Company reported that the Fort Collins factory annually produced the equivalent of 10,000 one-hundred pound bags of sugar and employed around 100 people continuously, increasing to over 400 during the beet processing “campaigns.”

Even before the factory was completed, beet farms sprang up around Fort Collins. Beets required precise farming techniques and were very labor intensive, but they generated more income for the farmers than any other crop. The factory paid almost $300,000 to local farmers in 1905, which increased to $500,000 by 1910.

 Wars, the economy, trade policies, and weather all impacted the profitability and viability of the sugar beet industry. Drought and high winds in the mid-1950s reduced the sugar beet acreage. The Fort Collins factory announced in 1955 that it would not operate, moving the harvested beets to other plants for processing. It never reopened. In 1967, the major buildings were razed and the area left to reinvent itself.

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Site in 2008. Photograph by M. E. McNeill

Here is a photograph I took in 2008, looking at the site from approximately the same spot that Clatworthy did years ago. The view is much less impressive. Three of the original buildings remained, purchased by the city as a home for the street department. But thanks to the industry, Fort Collins had grown and become a real player in the new 20th century economy.

Next week, I’m going to return to the resorts of the Poudre Canyon and share some images between the Tunnel and Rustic.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page can click the “Sugar Beets” category to see the rest of my Beet posts.

Mechanical Engineering Building & Guggenheim Hall: CSU Neighbors

I’m having trouble deciding which CSU buildings to include in my blog posts. I have over 200 images of campus buildings, many more that I would care to write about or you would care to read about. I’ve decided, for the most part, to limit the posts on CSU’s buildings to those buildings that are on the National or Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.

The two buildings that I have chosen to feature today are both on the Colorado Register, one because it is one of the earliest existing buildings on campus and the other because of its connection to women’s educational opportunities. In addition to being on the Register, the two buildings are neighbors on the south side of Laurel Street, close to College Avenue. They are the Manufacturing Engineering Building, which has gone through a number of name changes and is now the Preconstruction Center, and Guggenheim Hall.

Now Image: Preconstruction Center (left) and Guggenheim Hall (right), March 25, 2017

Mechanical Engineering Building, 251 West Laurel Street:

A special appropriation from the state of Colorado funded the Mechanic Shop in 1883. It was the first of four stages that would form the building shown in the images below.

Mechanical Engineering Building by F. P. Clatworthy, c. 1910

This image is taken from the east side building by F. P. Clatworthy, an early Estes Park, CO photographer, who built up an international reputation. Thankfully, he made a few trips to Fort Collins with his camera, leaving us some great images. I’ll do a post in the future dedicated to Clatworthy.

The original building was entered from the east side, the side that now faces Rembrandt Drive. You can see the original arched entry peeking over the shrub on the east side of the building. Here is what the east side of the building looks like today.

Now Image: Preconstruction Center, East Side, March 25, 2017

Meg Dunn did a post on Forgotten Fort Collins on the earliest Sanborn Fire Map. The map shows the location and shape of the original building. Take a look at it using the link below:

Here is a colorized image of the building from the west side.

Mechanical Engineering Building, c. 1912

By 1899, a number of additions had unified the building into the structure that is shown in the above photographs. The modifications also brought together all the practical instructional equipment, like lathes, forges, pumps, and motors. Below is a photograph of the machine room in the building from around 1907.

Machine Room, Mechanical Engineering Building, c. 1907

The Mechanical Engineering Building is on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. The site describes the reason for its inclusion as follows:

“The 1883 building is one of the oldest on campus.  Additions in 1892, 1896, 1899, and 1925 symbolize the growth and development of what began as a small agricultural college into a large diversified university.”

Guggenheim Hall, 291 West Laurel Street:

The exterior of Guggenheim Hall, unlike the Mechanical Engineering Building, has remained pretty much the same since it was built in 1910. Its name has also remained the same. Below is a photograph of the building from around 1920.

Guggenheim Hall with the Mechanical Engineering Building, c. 1920

This image, taken from the west side of Guggenheim Hall, shows its neighbor, the Mechanical Engineering Building. Guggenheim faces Laurel Street and was designed by architect James Murdock. It is built in the neoclassical tradition, using buff-colored bricks. Simon Guggenheim gifted very similar buildings to other Colorado colleges.

Below are two more images of Guggenheim Hall, one from the front and one from the rear, both taken by William P. Sanborn.

Front of Guggenheim Building, by Sanborn, Postmarked 1947
Guggenheim Building From the Oval, by Sanborn, c. 1940

Guggenheim Hall is included on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, not for its age, but for its impact on women’s education. Originally, the building housed the school’s home economics program, a program designed to assist women in their roles as wives and mothers. But, just as the building was completed, the program got a new leader, Inga M. K. Allison, who changed the direction of women’s education at the school.


Allison focused on research projects, such as determining the effect of altitude on cooking recipes, and grounded home economics in the physical, biological, and social sciences. The shift extended women’s education beyond the home and by the 1930s, the department was offering courses in art, teaching, and textiles.

The register describes the impact of Guggenheim Hall and Inga Allison this way:

“The 1910 building is associated with the efforts made toward expanding women’s educational programs beyond the domestic sciences by the women instructors who taught there during the first decades of the 20th century.”

Scroll down to the bottom of the page can click the “Colorado State University” category to see the rest of my CSU posts.

Next week, I’m going to begin a multi-post look at the Lindenmeier Site, one of the most important archeological sites in the United states.