Nevada Sugar Company
(Charleston)

Nevada Sugar Company

Although sugar beet production had been proposed in Nevada as early as 1863, none came to fruition until after the turn of the century. A test by the University of Nevada Agriculture Experiment Station in Fallon showed that beets grown in Lahontan Valley had a very high sugar content and adapted well to the growing conditions. Despite this, no major production occured until 1909. That year, the Fallon Commercial Club corresponded with Case, Heinze & Company, a firm from Southern California that operated sugar plants in Santa Ana and along the coast. The Company made a visit to Fallon in April, and before long locals were almost unanimously on board with the project. Farmers worked together to dedicate 7,000 acres to beet production, and the Commercial Club chairman Dr. Charles A. Hascall raised almost $200,000 in stock subscriptions. The only holdout was the Southern Pacific Railroad, who refused to build a network of rails connecting the valley farms to the plant. By December, Fred Heinze made a return visit and Dr. Hascall announced that negotiations with banks from out of state were successful in raising money for construction, and at an open meeting on December 16th, many locals pledged further donations - some as high as $5,000-$10,000.

In March 1910, the Nevada Sugar Company was organized with a $1 million capitalization broken into 10,000 shares. Farmers were told to expect yields of forty tons per acre; more after the beets improved the soil. That summer, ground was broken on the new factory located near Rattlesnake Hill. Stone was quarried from the hill and fired on site, and the Heinze firm shipped equipment from Santa Ana and Watsonville, California. A camp, known as Charleston, was also created to house workers.

In 1911, beet growth was critical - the factory was to require a large crop for its first year of production. Thirty tons of seed were imported from Bohemia and planted in April and May. The seed germinated quickly and developed into a healthy crop by June and July. Fields were treated using methods from California, and irrigated plentifully. Then suddenly the beets were strucken by a mysterious disease that caused curly, mottled foliage to develop and the beets to stop growing and rot in place. By November, the crop was deemed a failure. Nonetheless, the factory opened in late December and poured its first sack of sugar on January 6, 1912. Several thousand one-hundred pound sacks were produced and sold, but the return for farmers was less than expected and many were hesitant to commit land for the following year (the beets brought less profit than hay). Only 2,000 acres were dedicated, and the Company reached out to landowners in Lovelock to no avail.

The 1912 crop started off as well as 1911, but by the end of summer the beets were again struck with "curly top" disease. In October, the plant opened for production, but this year only 15,000 sacks of sugar were produced. In 1913, investors and stockholders gave the Nevada Sugar Company one more year to prove themselves, and despite producing 25,000 sacks of sugar at the end of the season, the factory ran at far less than capacity. It was closed in early 1914.

In 1916, the factory was inspected and purchased by the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. The Nevada-Utah Sugar Company was formed with George Wingfield as director, and 3,760 acres were secured. Again yields were low, and the plant closed again in 1917. It sat empty until late 1926, when the facilities were jointly purchased by Wingfield, R.L. Douglass, I.H. Kent, and E.S. Berney. They wanted to make one final attempt to prove beets profitable in the valley. After using their influence to convince farmers to plant beets, and shipping from Susanville and Alturas, the sugar factory produced its highest yield to date - 40,000 sacks. Unfortunately, low sugar prices made it became impossible to make a profit with the obsolete plant. Plans for 1928 were cancelled, and the plant was sold to a junk dealer from San Francisco. Between 1929 and 1934, the old building was used intermittently for whiskey-making, and in 1934 it was finally dismantled. The equipment was sent to Japan as scrap iron, and many of the factory's bricks were salvaged and reused for construction in Fallon (perhaps most notably in building the J.H. Corn Building).

I Visited the Sugar Factory
4.16.2009 & 10.12.2009

Bibliography