Museum speaks of a time when sugar beets grew in Iowa
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 02/09/2012 3:42 PM
BELMOND, Iowa — Belmond was once home to a sugar beet factory and its history is documented at the Belmond Historical Society Museum.
"The sugar beet plant played a vital role in the economic health of Belmond during the 1920s, and that's why we feel it merits a prominent display in our museum," said Larry Turner, president of the Belmond Historical Society.
The display details the origin of the plant, its financing, construction and unfortunate closing. Information about growing and processing of sugar beets, recreational activities associated with the plant and some of the tragedies that occurred during the plant's years of operation is featured.
Turner said volunteers researched and built the display, but they hired someone to help them decide how to put everything together.
The idea for the sugar plant came from local banker and native son Albert Lee Luick. He was inspired to build the sugar beet factory by Tama Jim Wilson, who was his professor at Iowa State College in Ames.
Wilson was later U.S. ag secretary under three presidents, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and Robert Taft.
Turner said they learned much about the plant and its history through articles in the Belmond Herald-Press. Tools, the original operating ledger and many historical photographs taken inside and outside the plant are displayed.
The Belmond Sugar Beet Factory was erected by the Iowa Valley Sugar Company in 1920. It was operated by American Beet Sugar Company during harvest campaigns of 1928, 1929 and 1930.
Several years of poor beet crops caused the plant to close for good in 1936. The factory was sold to General Mills in 1943 and to Central Soya in 1983. It was demolished in 1983. It stood where Max Yield Cooperative is now located.
"It was a huge factory, and sugar beets came from miles and miles away," Turner said.
Due in part to the sugar beet display, the museum was selected as a part of the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in 2010, Turner said.
The Belmond Historical Society of Wright County started in the 1970s, but was down to just five members in 2006 when the community celebrated its 150th year, said Turner, who operates Winding Creek Gardens north of town. Celebration organizers approached the group about writing the town's history.
"We knew that it would be a big job, but we said we'd update what had been down for the 100th and 125th celebrations," Turner said. "Once we started looking, we found there were some big gaps. I got on the phone and started calling, and we ended up with a group of 12 to 15. We caught the history bug and rewrote the complete history of the town. It was 500 pages."
With interest growing, the historical society raised the money it needed for its current home and is now in its fourth year at 223 East Main St. Membership has grown to more than 100.
"We have some great volunteers who really work to get things done," Turner said. "Everything is done by volunteers."
Museum volunteers digitized the community newspapers and built a search engine. An extensive display is featured on Belmond's Civil War veterans including a Union soldier's wool coat, donated by the great-great-great-grandson of a Civil War soldier. Information and photos on all veterans from the county are being compiled.
Volunteers are updating a display on the 1966 tornado that devastated Belmond and are working on a display about patents issued to local residents. Glass plate negatives from a local photographer have been digitized and archived.
Since the Belmond Historical Society Museum is home to the Chamber of Commerce office, it's open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May through September. It's also open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. For more information, call (319) 242-4421 or go to www.belmondmuseum.com.