Fort Collins began as a military camp, but agriculture was the basis of its growth as a city. Alfalfa, wheat, corn and beans have all been common crops for the area, but during the first half of the twentieth century, the sugar beet was king. Grown on farms throughout northern Colorado, the beets were harvested and hauled to sugar processing plants in Fort Collins, Loveland, Eaton, Windsor, and Greeley.
In Fort Collins, the beet factory was located just south of E. Vine, between Linden and 9th Street (also called Lemay). The City’s Street Operations department is located in a couple of the old beet factory buildings. Workers in both the factory and in some of the nearby beet fields were housed in three small neighborhoods that surrounded the factory.
Buckingham is just south of the beet factory, between Lincoln Avenue and Buckingham Street. Andersonville, also called both San Cristo and Via Lopez, is located just east of 9th Street and south of E. Vine. (The Museo de los Tres Colonias can be found in this neighborhood.) These first two neighborhoods originally housed Germans from Russia. (Learn more about the Russian-Germans in the book, Second Hoeing.) But as World War I brought the influx of Russian-Germans to a halt, Mexicans fleeing from the civil war in their own country began to step in and take up the work. Toward that end, a third neighborhood was built called La Colonia. It is now also referred to as Alta Vista.
As the beets were processed, they were sliced and sent through a series of chemical reactions that first pulled the sugars out, then removed other impurities. Next the sugar was bleached and crystalized. Part of the impurity extraction process involved mixing lime into the beet “juice.” (Not lime as in lemons and limes, but lime as in calcium oxide from heated limestone.) The alkaline process turned the impurities into solids that could be filtered out of the liquid syrup.
Once the chemical reaction was complete, the lime was then pulled back out and sent along a flume two miles south across the Poudre river to a field where it was just poured out as waste. The effects can still be seen today. As you travel along the Poudre River trail just west of Timberline Road, the bridge that held the flume can be seen to the north, over the river. And just across the other side of the trail is Kingfisher Point Natural Area where the ground is so alkaline that native plants are unable to survive. Instead an invasive species called kochia has moved in. But over time that’s slowly changing and the native species are beginning to reassert themselves.
Most of the flume is long gone, but a piece of it remains today in the form of a bridge over the Poudre river that once enabled the waste lime product to bypass the river in order to reach the dumping ground. The “Great Western Sugar Company Effluent Flume and Bridge,” as it’s officially named, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 19, 2014.
A press release from the City of Fort Collins: Historic Great Western Sugar Company Effluent Flume and Bridge Receives National Recognition.
“Silver Wedge: the Sugar Beet Industry in Fort Collins”, a historical context written by Eric Twitty.