I drive through Hamilton City occasionally and always go by and visit the shuttered Holly Sugar Beet Plant. I worked for Holly Sugar at this plant on the beet dump during my Chico State college years in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The plant started in 1905 and was shut down in 1996. The town was founded at the same time as the plant.
I’ve always had a sweet spot for sugar beets as upon graduation from college I worked as a field representative for the California Beet Growers Association traveling throughout California and Arizona. Our company cars with sugar beet decals on the side were always a great conversation starter. I still have the habit of checking a sugar packet at a restaurant to see if it is beet or cane sugar.
Sugar beets were an important crop, not only in Northern California but the entire state during those years. They provided farmers good income and jobs for many people from trucking to working at the plants. In 1972 there were more than 330,000 acres of sugar beets in California and probably about 50,000 acres in Northern California, supplying plants in Hamilton City, Woodland and Clarksburg. At that time there were 10 sugar plants in the state. Today only 25,000 acres of beets grown in state, in the Imperial Valley, supplying the remaining plant in the state located there.
When I stop outside the gates of the shuttered plant, I can still hear and smell the plant running and, if I listen carefully, I hear the trucks coming up Highway 45 to bring beets to the plant. I also distinctly remember the early Sunday morning shifts, which could be a little rough sometimes due to Saturday nights in Chico. Sugar beets helped pay for my education years ago and I made many friends that were growing or working in the beet industry that remain friends today.