What’s the cost of preserving history?

It’s a question that has plagued the sugar factory, just east of Longmont. For the past 120 years, the towering smokestack, cluster of brick buildings, and large metal shed have been part of the local skyline. As the property sits, it has continued to draw the interest of those who grew up hearing tales of what it was like to explore the unlit twists and turns of the once-prosperous 110,000-square-foot factory, left dank and crumbling.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office warns that the decrepit buildings — visible from the well-traveled Colo. 119 — are a serious hazard to those who enter, with holes in floors and the numerous air-born health concerns from asbestos to small-animal feces.

Not long after the factory shuttered in 1977, self-employed broker Dick Thomas of Denver bought the property from Great Western Sugar Company in 1980 under the name Clean Energy LLC. Thomas said he bought it for roughly $1.7 million. It includes 11 buildings on roughly 40 acres of property, according to county records. Thomas said he liked the factory’s brick architecture and its ties to Longmont history.

While Thomas said there are “no specific plans” to re-purpose the buildings in the near future, there has been interest from developers. Thomas said he hopes the storied factory can be preserved. Others, however, contend that it’s time to knock the old facility to the ground.

The Great Western Sugar Factory outside of Longmont is pictured around 1905. (Photo by Charles Boynton, courtesy Longmont Museum)

What was the sugar factory?

There was a time when the factory at 11939 Sugar Mill Road was a hub of economic activity.

Producing more than a million pounds of sugar every day, during the three to four months it processed beets after harvest , the Great Western Sugar Company, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based American Sugar Company, was the city’s top employer for most of factory’s 74-year lifespan, according to Erik…

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