Newcomers are always asking who took the sugar out of Sugar House, and the answer is it was never there in the first place.
The sugar mill that gave the venerable community of Sugar House its name never produced any sugar, but it is generally assumed that the experiment was a forerunner of the successful, far-flung sugar beet industry in the United States.Actually, Sugar House is credited with an impressive number of historical firsts for the Territory of Deseret or the state of Utah, all of which were more measurable than sugar.
Besides the first beet sugar factory, some of these firsts were a flour mill; a paper mill; a bucket, churn, tub and barrel factory; an iron foundry; a chemical and powder works; a match factory; a tannery; a cocoonery; a glass button factory; a nail factory; a mulberry tree farm and a shopping mall.
It has been said that the first matches, known as Findley's Lucifers, were as large as lead pencils and so potent that a person lighting one had to turn away to avoid suffering asphyxiation. Even the first scientific fish hatchery in the world was established in Sugar House.
Yet, all these interesting firsts aside, the most famous structure in Sugar House was the long-gone penitentiary, Utah's first, on a site selected by Brigham Young. The first buildings of adobe brick, surrounded by a 12-foot wall, were occupied in January 1855.
The prison was renovated in 1866, and by 1882 it included 244 steel cells and a chapel accommodating 250 people.
It was in this imposing structure that many Mormon polygamists, forced to wear stripes, languished during the battle with the federal government in the 1880s. In 1951, the penitentiary was demolished, and all the inmates were moved to the new prison at Point of the Mountain.
In place of the prison, Sugar House Park was constructed, and adjacent to it, Highland High, whose school colors were appropriately designated as black and white.
With those illustrious traditions, Sugar House, with its current population exceeding 100,000 residents, is celebrating its sesquicentennial. When Orson Pratt led an advance party of Mormon immigrants into the Salt Lake Valley on July 22, 1847, he suggested they camp to the south, near what is now 500 East and 1700 South.
Pratt chose the site because of the abundance of grass and water for the animals. It got its present name on April 23, 1854, when LDS leaders called a meeting to organize an ecclesiastical ward. They selected the name Sugar House to identify with the sugar factory then under construction.
In spite of the official name, the ward was commonly known as Kanyon Creek Ward for a number of years. For nearly 25 years, the ward consisted of the large area extending from 900 South to 2700 South from the Jordan River on the west to the Wasatch Mountains on the east. (Kanyon Creek later became known as Parley's (Creek.)
In 1850, while an LDS missionary in France, John Taylor met Philip DeLaMare, a young bridgebuilder and French convert to the Mormon Church. Taylor persuaded DeLaMare to help him figure out how Utah Mormons might be able to emulate the French and raise sugar beets.
In the spring of 1851, Taylor and DeLaMare visited Arras, a town in northern France, where beet sugar was extensively cultivated. After careful study, they decided the enterprise would work in Utah, so they imported 500 bushels of seed, purchased machinery in England and had it shipped to Utah via New Orleans.
Unfortunately, parts of the intricate machinery were lost during the arduous trip across country.
On April 11, 1853, Brigham Young chose a site for the mill on the southeast corner of the intersection of 2100 South and Highland Drive. Truman Angell designed it, even though he had never seen a sugar factory.
The finished building had a mill race on its south side, and a water wheel in Parley's Creek supplied power to operate the plant.
By Oct. 26, 1854, the sugar factory was considered ready to go, but molasses was the only product it ever produced. The incomplete machinery combined with well-meaning people without firsthand knowledge of sugar-making helped ensure its failure.
In the Agricultural History journal, historian Leonard Arrington wrote that Sugar House beets were raised and processed, but "the factory never managed to solve the chemical problems involved in converting beets grown in alkali soil into granulated sugar."
Karen Matthews, a history buff who has intensively studied the Sugar House project, believes the heart of the failure was the machinery's inability to hold the vacuum required to spontaneously crystallize syrup into sugar.
In the Utah Historical Quarterly, Charles Schmalz argued that "crude beet juice contains too many dissolved salts to be edible." A technology, he said, to separate the sugar from the bitter-tasting salts was at least 80 years in the future. Besides, Utah beets had a higher salt content than those grown in France.
According to Schmalz, "Crystallization, an efficient technique for separating sugar from dissolved impurities, would have permitted the production of an edible sweetener, but there is no record that crystallization was ever accomplished at Sugar House."
In 1855, the sugar mill was converted into a flour mill. Then it became a paper mill, processing sunflowers, weeds, straw and old rags. The resulting rag bond was used in printing the early copies of the Deseret News.
Later, it became a woolen factory, a bucket and tub works, a roundhouse and machine shop for the Utah Central Railroad, and finally a coal yard office and weighing station.
In 1928, the building was dismantled, and in 1952, Keith O'Brien Department Store was built on the site.
Even the creek that provided the first power for the building has disappeared from view. It has been subsequently covered and now runs in a conduit beneath 2100 South.
The first financially successful sugar factory in America was not established until 1879 in Alvarado, Calif.
The centerpiece of Sugar House, the stately Plaza Monument at 1100 East and 2100 South, stands just west of the site where the sugar factory was located. Erected in 1934, the monument included a statue of a woman representing agriculture and a man representing industry.
In recent years, Sugar House has come alive with a major shopping district abutting 1300 East, containing multiple stores and restaurants.
But the best is still to come. Town fathers sensitive to the rich history of Sugar House are also planning the revitalization of the original business district at 1100 East and 2100 South.
However, there are two exotic items surfacing on absolutely no one's agenda - a new sugar mill and a new prison.