Tasty roots

Many roots run deep in Sheridan County, from early settling families who remain to longstanding businesses that helped shape the past and present economy and landscape of the area. While people and companies come, go and change, the imprint they left on Sheridan will always remain.

Some businesses, like the Sheridan Brewing Company, only remain in the form of relics and memorabilia: old beer cans for sale in vintage shops and stories passed down from former workers of the marque distributor of the late 1800s and beyond.

Other businesses still stand, but have completely transformed their industry, like the Mill Inn that opened its doors in 1890 as a milling structure and opens its doors to visitors and tourists today as a motel.

And yet still, some businesses like the sugar mill stand firm, operating in Sheridan County for a century as a participant in an industry that is embedded in the fabric of our nation.

Together these types of historic businesses shape our understanding of our past and our appreciation of our present economy in Sheridan.

 

Give me some sugar

The Sheridan Sugar Company opened in 1915, a sugar beet processing factory under the Holly Sugar Company. In just the first 15 years of business, the company grew rapidly, opening 10 additional factories including other locations in Wyoming such as Torrington and Worland.

In 1936, the Holly Sugar Company opened an agricultural research station known as Holly Hybrids on Fifth Street, where it currently operates today.

Shortly thereafter, the company realized there wasn’t enough viable land in the area to expand operations and shut down. However, the closure was only temporary as a sugar shortage during World War II led the company to temporarily resume production.

After that, a portion of the main operation was dismantled in 1947 but the company remained, serving as a warehouse and distribution center for sugar. Sugar beets continued to grow in the valley and were sent to a processing plant in Hardin, Monatan, until the early 1970s when that plant shut down, another in a string of small factory closures in the industry at the time.

Meanwhile the research station continued developing best practices for tillage, fertilization, new sugar beet strands and hybrids. The findings supported sugar beet growers all over the nation. About half of the sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets and the other half comes from sugar cane.

Over the years, focus of the company’s research shifted from agronomic study to more strain development such as creating disease resistant strains and higher yield versions.

Eventually the old factory ceased to serve as storage and began processing seeds from the newly developed varieties. More research was put in place from Holly Seed and the company went from being a producer for just its own sugar to being a seed distributor to sugar beet growers all over the nation. More facilities, equipment and jobs were once again brought to Sheridan to process the seeds.

Today, Holly Seed is still processing and distributing sugar beet seeds, except now the company’s research is coming from overseas and the seeds needing processing are coming from throughout the region.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the company will host a community barbecue with entertainment on Aug. 15 at the Fifth Street location.

Current general manger Mark Law said that the history of the company is something to be celebrated in Sheridan County, as it had a large impact on the area.

“If you go back and look at the newspapers and do a search from The Sheridan Enterprise from 1914-1915, virtually every week there are three to four days of the week that have something related to the sugar beet factory in the headlines,” Law said. “You look at the names and the old payrolls and it employed hundreds of people. If you consider the agricultural community that is producing beets and the people who were working and processing the beets, it was probably a considerably larger impact on the economy than any of the coal mines have today.”

Though the focus of the factory has shifted, and the size of the operation has downsized, the company is still a large contributor to the local economy, he added.

“We don’t have as big of an impact now but the payroll is still in the millions for Sheridan residents and every little piece creates the whole for a community our size,” Law said. “And we’re not subject to the energy boom and bust that can happen in a state that is primarily centered around the energy reserve, so it’s nice to keep businesses around who can continue to support the economic development of the area through it all.”

The company currently employs approximately 20 full-time employees and brings on an additional 10 to 20 seasonal employees depending on the seasonality and the size of the year’s crop.

Law said that though the seeds are small, they are a high-value crop.

“A box of sugar beet seed is something you can hold in your hand and costs about $2,000 and will plant about 16 acres,” Law said. “In terms of total dollars that we turn over it is a pretty sizable amount but sugar factories are much bigger these days, in terms of actual size, than this one in Sheridan, Wyoming, ever was. They’ll have 200 to 300 people at those plants. But we now have support scattered throughout the nation and continue to make a viable impact on our community.”

 

Sheridan Brewing Company

According to the Wyoming State Historical Society, in 1887, Arnold Tschirgi, George Paul and Peter Demple joined forces to found The Sheridan Brewing Company.

Just one year later, the brewery distributed its first products and in 1889 operations expanded, producing millions of barrels of beer before the Prohibition in the 1920s.

Undeterred by this law, the brewery shifted to new products like near beer Sherex and an assortment of fruit-flavored soft drinks.

By the end of Prohibition in 1933, the brewery was producing 600 barrels of beer a day.

The brewery was the first company in the United States to bottle its products in flat-topped cans.

In 1954, as beer distribution declined and the brewery couldn’t compete with big name brands, the brewery shifted to exclusively produce soda, becoming the Can-a-Pop Beverage Company.

Can-a-Pop quickly became the leading producer of canned soft drinks in the nation with the largest plant in America. But as quickly as they rose, they were taken down by such nationally recognized brands as Coca Cola, Pepsi and Fanta.

The brewery was torn down in 1994, and Mill Park is now at the spot of Sheridan Brewing Company.

 

Mill Inn

Not originally an inn, Sheridan Flouring Mills, Inc. was established in the early 1890s as a single elevator, steam powered, wooden milling structure.

The nature of the business is not the only thing that has shifted. Early in its history, the structure was moved to its current location and enlarged as the demand for its product grew.

According to the Wyoming State Historical Society, the new mill had the latest milling technology, made of fire resistant masonry and was the largest, most modern of its kind in Wyoming with daily capacity of 1,000 barrels of flour.

As a sign of its economic impact, at one time the mill was the largest taxpayer in the state. But the location of the mill was eventually its demise as rising freight rates to export the grain meant the mill could not afford to compete with other milling locations.

The Mill closed up shop and was sold in 1974 at which time the building was remodeled into a 42-unit motel and the tower was converted into office spaces.

By Alisa Brantz

alisa@thesheridanpress.com

By |May 19th, 2015|

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