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April 8, 2009 > History: Union City has long, sugary history

History: Union City has long, sugary history

By Myrla Raymundo

A plaque on Dyer Street in Union City reads:

SITE OF NATION'S FIRST SUCCESSFUL BEET SUGAR FACTORY
The factory was built in l870 by E. H. Dyer, father of the American Beet Sugar Industry, and located on a corner of Dyer's farm. The small factory began processing sugar beets on November 15, 1870, and produced 29 tons of sugar during its first operating season. The plant was completely rebuilt at one time on the original site. The entire plant was demolished in l977.

The first successful sugar beet mill in the United States was in Alvarado. But it didn't start out that way. Organized as the California Beet Sugar Manufacturing Company in l867, it began manufacturing sugar from beets in l870. Following the pattern set by some 13 similar endeavors, it closed down after a two-year run.

Ebenezer H. Dyer came to California at his brother Ephraim's urging. While Ebenezer managed the farms, Ephraim prepared acreage leases. Ebenezer was elected surveyor of Alameda County, and his job was to establish township maps and check out boundaries for title claims.

The beet sugar factory sat idle on their property in Alvarado until the brothers decided to buy it. The new company was called the Standard Sugar Manufacturing Company. It operated until 1886, when the boilers blew up and killed a fireman.

Another factory, Pacific Coast Sugar Company, was organized in 1886 but only lasted a year.

Ebenezer H. Dyer retired in the l890s and lived until l906. Dyer Street in Union City was named after him.

In l889, Alameda Sugar Company purchased the property. It was a successful venture until 1925, when the leafhopper destroyed much of Alvarado's beet crop. The plant was doomed, people said. They were wrong.

Holly Sugar Corporation, which already had stock in the Alameda Sugar Company purchased two factories in Tracy and Alvarado. The Alvarado plant started up again in 1927. Holly Sugar employed many people during the height of the season, and a crew of around 50 during the slack period of the year.

The old plant was reconstructed in the late 1930s. The final achievement in 1937 was a modern 1,800-ton factory of beauty and efficiency - a credit to the Holly Sugar staff and a monument to E.H. Dyer. The company operated until l969 under the direction of Clarence V. Lesser, field engineer. The plant was demolished in 1977.

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