Archive for the ‘fort collins history’ tag
Driving out on Buckingham Street over the weekend, I was surprised to find dozens of prairie dogs frolicking and sunning themselves along parts of the road that used to be beet fields. Their activities got me thinking about Fort Collins’ sugar beet fields and what it must have been like to work in one. If you visit the Museo de las Tres Colonias in Fort Collins, you can judge the size and weight of an average sugar beet and imagine how much effort it would take to get it out of the ground with its extensive root system holding on! Generations of Fort Collins residents carried out the back-breaking work of the beet fields, from early German-Russians who immigrated to the United States to “African-American”, Japanese, and later Mexican or Mexican American families, who all hoped to realize the same dreams.
If you want to read more about how beets are connected to history in Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Local History Archive website is a great place to start. As I have just said a lot of the information here is from the Fort Collins Local History Archive website. Here’s some of the story which starts a long way away from Colorado. R. Margarat, a German chemist discovered that there was sugar in beet juice in 1747 and around the same time in Italy, people figured out how to refine sugar. This led to the early development of the beet sugar industry, which by World War I, had spread across Europe and made sugar affordable for more and more people. As the Fort Collins Local History Archive website states, the first imported beet seed from France arrived in the United States in 1836, and between 1852 and 1879, thirteen factories were erected across the United States. However, all but one of the factories failed since the necessary heavy machinery was expensive and had to be imported from Europe. There were also not enough people in the US with the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to grow and process sugar beets. American farmers were unfamiliar with how to grow beets and the whole process required intensive hand labor.
The Fort Collins Local History website talks about how in 1866, an editorial published in the Rocky Mountain News promoted the idea of growing sugar beets in Colorado—individuals experimented with irrigation to compensate for the limited annual rainfall in towns like Littleton. There are reports of beets being grown in Fort Collins around 1870, where they were grown as animal feed since there was no factory to process them. Then, in the 1880s, Colorado Agriculture College in Fort Collins experimented with sugar beet agriculture on farms in the area, and found that the climatic and soil conditions, as well as the irrigation networks in the South Platte River Valley were excellent for high yields—beets with approximately 15% sugar. That research led to more support and interest along with the claim that, “the soil of Colorado has no superior in the world for producing this beet.” The beet sugar industry continued to expand in Fort Collins and the region. This is from the Fort Collins Local History website.
More research, practice, demand, political events and hard work led to the continued development of the beet sugar industry. The Dingley Tariff of 1897 placed a duty on refined sugar in the US and the domestic demand for sweetener continued to grow, fueled even more by the Spanish American War in 1899. By 1903, new factories were being built in 16 states across the United States according to the Fort Collins Local History website.
Between 1901 and 1906, factories were built in Loveland, Eaton, Greeley, Windsor, Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush. The first beet sugar manufacturing plant in Colorado was owned by the Colorado Sugar Manufacturing Company and established in Grand Junction on the western slope in 1899. By 1909, Colorado was the leading beet sugar producing state in the nation, and more factories were built in Brighton, Fort Lupton, Ovid and Johnstown.
By 1910, sugar beet production in the South Platte River Valley averaged 806,000 tons, which is a lot of beets! You can see huge piles of them in old photographs. The growth of the beet sugar industry led to more opportunities in our area, including more job possibilities and more income. The Fort Collins neighborhoods of Buckingham, Andersonville, and Alta Vista (with their distinct histories and economic conditions) encircled the beet fields and are the living legacy of the laborers who built the Colorado sugar beet empire. Following the end of World War I, Latino families began replacing the German-Russians when the Great Western Sugar Company established a colony (Alta Vista) for its Hispanic workers in Fort Collins.
The Beet Street organization and its logo reference Fort Collin’s agricultural past. When I first saw the logo, I didn’t have the historical reference to understand what it had to do with Fort Collins. Since then, I’ve learned a little about the fascinating story of the sugar beet and its importance in our community. The successful sugar beet industry was a turning point in Fort Collin’s economic history and today, the not-for profit ‘Beet Street’ exists to repeat history by mobilizing the cultural arts as an economic engine—to once more enhance Fort Collins’ economic vitality! Fort Collins was built on ideas, back breaking work, and connections to our national and international economies. The same components will drive our current development. If “history repeats itself,” we’re in for an exciting ride!
Dreaming costs nothing, but not dreaming costs everything!
Recently, Rachael Ray‘s magazine, as part of a feature they will be doing on the best places to eat in Fort Collins, contacted the The Silver Grill here in town. After conversations with writers and photographers, The Grill mailed the magazine folks in New York City a selection of their cinnamon rolls.
That’s right! We’re talking about the (in)famous cinnamon rolls of The Silver Grill in Downtown Fort Collins, which is now 75 years old! As an avid supporter of Great Plates, long time Downtown Fort Collins resident and our very own slice of Americana, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with what exactly keeps the Silver Grill at the top of the list of places to eat when visiting Fort Collins. We contacted The Grill to learn a little more about what makes that place so special. Johnny Arnolfo the owner, describes the Grill as “…the Café that everyone remembers in their hometown where they grew up. Our clientele runs the whole spectrum, from ‘Blue Collar’ to ‘White Collar’ to business people to students; but especially the locals and visitors to the area.” Here’s what else he shared…..
The Silver Grill was opened on October 28, 1933 by Flossie and Millie Widger. Johnny attended CSU in the early 70′s and would frequent the cafe. On February 14, 1979 he bought the cafe from Pete Widger, the son of the owner as he loved the history behind the Silver Grill, and it was small enough for a young man to learn the business. At that time, the Grill occupied 1 building, had 8 employees and sat 40 customers. 30 years later, the Grill spreads over 5 buildings, has 50 employees and seats more than 180 guests. It also has an outside patio!
Now Old Town hasn’t always been the way we know it today. When Johnny bought the Silver Grill, Old Town was “an area of transients, bad bars, and in poor disrepair…it was not a place where a person wanted to go.” But they persisted, enduring tough times and when Old Town Square was developed, people saw what the place could be. As Johnny puts it, “it was through the vision of a small few and perseverance by many that has made Old Town what it is today.”
So next time you have folks in town, take them for a stroll downtown to experience the art, energy, food and good times of Fort Collins. Remember those who weathered the storms of Old Town’s journey and continue to sustain our community and health….. and don’t forget that slice of Americana….
Viva Fort Collins!
Thanks for the great pictures from Novello Image Photgraphy, another local company in Old Town.