WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
SUGAR BEET INDUSTRY IN WASHINGTON COUNTY
HISTORYThe sugar beet industry took off in the southern Utah area in the 1890s when somebody figured out how to grow sugar beets in alkali soil.
The industry thrived in southern Utah until the early 1920s when the Curly Top Virus infected local crops.
Then in the 1930s, the industry took off again with a new variety of beets that was resitant to the Curly Top Virus.
The building which is now the St. George Art Museum was built in 1934 to store beet seed for a sugar beet factory. The Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, after determining that sugar beet seed was a good "cash" crop, built and used it along with the already existing opera house and another building which is now the Social Hall. This was the start of a business that would last for nearly fifty years.
Sugar beets were planted in the Washinton Fields and Bloomington in the fall. Due to the mild-winter climate in Utah's Dixie, the crop could stay in the ground over winter. In the spring, the beets would sprout and grow to several feet high and then fall over. The plants would then be harvested and hauled by horse-drawn wagons to the factory where they would undergo a process to remove the seed and sort it into different sizes and varieties. The seed was cleaned, treated for disease and stored in bins.
Warehouse No. 3, as it was referred to at that time, (which is now the new St. George Art Museum) was where the seed was stored. There were 15 bins which each held 80,000 to 130,000 pounds of seed. From the bins, the seed was put into three sizes of bags, 20, 25, and 50 pounds and then stored until it was shipped. Shipping was done by hauling the bags to Cedar City where they were sent by train to sugar beet plants in West Jordan, Utah; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Montana, and Washington. After 1955 the seed was all shipped with trucking firms until the sugar company closed in 1979.
The industry again died out when in 1979 the U.S. Government dropped their sugar production subsidies. Sugar production moved to Brazil and other low cost areas. The buildings were vacant after 1979 and became home to mice and pigeons and an eyesore to the community. Through the vision, generosity, and hard work of the community and city officials, the ultimate dream to restore the building as part of the St. George's historic district was realized in 1997 when it became the beautiful new home of the Art Museum.
REFERENCESThe Sugar Industry in Utah
A history of the Utah-Idaho Sugar buildings in St. George
Another history of the Utah-Idaho Sugar buildings in St. George
Wikipedia article about the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company
Beet Sugar in the West: A History of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1891-1966
Book by Leonard J. Arrington
University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1966)