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Oldest Surviving “Beet Shack” Threatened

The Sugar Beet industry was a booming industry in Fort Collins early days. Around the turn of the 20th Century, workers were recruited from Nebraska, Kansas, and the Volga Region of Russia to work in the Beet Fields. The ‘Germans from Russia’, as these workers were affectionately called were hard working and experienced workers, mostly immigrants from Russia. This ethnic group came about in the late 1700’s when Catherine the Great invited Western Europeans to settle along the Volga River on the then scarcely populated steppes of Southern Russia. The Colonists were granted many special concessions for coming to these new lands. The Predominantly German agrarian  colonist transformed the Volga steppes inte the “Breadbasket” of Imperial Russia. By the 1870’s subsequent Russian rulers sought to reform, modernize, and integrate the Russian Empire, restricting many of the special rights granted to the settlers. As a result, many of the German-Russians migrated to America, took advantage of the 1862 Homestead Act. Many of these settlers settled in Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas establishing the farming communities still in existence today.

Around the turn of the 20th century, several Fort Collins business people pooled their money and incorporated the “Fort Collins Sugar Company.” The company brought 48 German-Russian families to the city, providing some housing in the Buckingham neighborhood. It is the sugar beet industry that gave rise to the Buckingham, Andersonville, and Alta Vista neighborhoods. The company built thirteen homes on land next to the new sugar processing plant. These homes, simple in nature, came to be known as the “Beet Shacks.”  The Weekly Courier describes the scene in late December 1902:

A new colony has been started east of town…by Russian sugar beet workers. Thirteen little box houses 20×12, with oval roofs and 4 little windows, have been put up, with sheds for horses and cows. The houses, while small, seem comfortable and new ones are being built daily.

Today, only one of these homes still exists in the Buckingham neighborhood. Admittedly, it is in pretty rough shape, and is no longer habitable. This home, known historically as the Peter and Henry Deines House, also has a traditional summer kitchen and a root cellar on the property.

The current landowner wishes to remove or demolish the home to construct a new residence. The owner has been working with an ad-hoc committee to try and find a way to relocate the structure. There are opportunities to relocate it, but funding is needed. In a bit of a twist for Lost Fort Collins, we are asking for your help in this. If you are interested, contact me at terence@lostfortcollins.com and I will get you in touch with the committee.

Wayne Sundberg provided much of the information for his blog, as well as “The Sugar Factory Neighborhoods: Buckingham, Andersonville, Alta-Vista.” The history of these neighborhoods is fascinating, something that will be talked about in future blogs.

8 comments to Oldest Surviving “Beet Shack” Threatened

  • Lauren

    Terence – Sorry to see Cat leave, but I’m glad you’re taking this over. I suggest they talk to “Beet Street” and the Bohemian Foundation. This building may work at the proposed concert venue along the river. Wouldn’t it be great to have a “Beet” building for Beet Street?

    Lauren

  • Susan

    In this vein, you might be interested in the novel, “Second Hoeing,” by Hope Williams Sykes, about the “Germans from Russia” in Fort Collins. She was so severely criticized by the townspeople after it was published that she left town, an interesting story in itself.

  • Terence

    Lauren, thanks for the suggestion! That is an excellent one, and I will definitely pass it on.

    Susan, I will look that book up. Personally, I havn’t given much though to the sugar beet industry and the immigrants and workers, but this is intrigued me. I find it fascinating that as a society we scorn the very people we depend upon (not just limited to the US of course).

  • “the Buckingham, Andersonville, and Alta Vista neighborhoods.”

    I don’t think I know where any of these are.

    I’ve always wondered why so many Germans ended up in Ukraine. I suppose it would be for the same reason they ended up in Russia, eh? I’d never heard any of that before. Cool.

  • Terence

    Bafefootmeg (I love that name!) Buckingham is the neighborhood sandwiched between New Belgium Brewery and Odell’s Brewery. Andersonville is on the east side of Lemay (aka Ninth Street) just south of Vine. Alta Vista is on the northwest corner of Vine and Lemay. BTW, the old building on the southwest corner of that intersection, which currently houses the streets department, is the only surviving sugar beet factory in Fort Collins (that I am aware of).

  • interesting post:) You know the area of slc where we lived before is called Sugarhouse because that’s where the sugar beet factory was here. It sounds like your going to learn – and pass along – lots of interesting tidbits about FC!

  • Chuck Curtis

    Nice blog on old Fort Collins where I grew up in the 40s and 50s.
    My mother was a Volga German who worked those fields you are discussing. She was, of course, too young to be doing such labor and was not educated. People would make fun of her because of the German accent. She often complained of the mean social structure she lived in but as time went on live improved for her.
    As a ‘historic point’ I remember the old retired German farmers with straw hats and big moustaches gathering at the corner of College and Mountain for conversations, in German. They would spend the day riding those trolleys :)

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