AKA: Spreckels Sugar Company, Mill #2, Watsonville, CA; Western Beet Sugar Company, Factory, Watsonville, CA

Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - factories; built works _ industrial buildings - processing plant

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1888, demolished 1920

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Ford Street
Watsonville, CA 95076

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The Western Beet Sugar Company Factory was located approximately on a parcel today bounded by Ford Street, Kearney Street and Walker Street.


This large sugar beet factory occupied the center of Watsonville's economy from its construction in 1888 until 1898, when sugar magnate, Claus Spreckels, erected larger and more modern sugar beet plant near Salinas, CA. After the construction of this second plant in Monterey County, this Santa Cruz County plant was held in reserve, used to process large beet crops that couldn't be handled in a timley fashion in Salinas. The plant was idle by the time of the 1906 Earthquake, and was probably damaged in tremor. Spreckels chose not to rebuilt it as a reserve processing facility, and by 1908, portions of its property had been occupied by another business, the Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company, a local redwood logger. As noted by railroad historian Derek Whaley, the Hihn-Hammond Lumber Yard had mostly replaced the Western Sugar Beet Factory complex by 1920. (See Derek Whaley, Santa Cruz Trains, "Spreckels Beet Sugar Refinery," accessed 08/05/2016.)

Building History

This was the first sugar beet refinery established by sugar trust owner Claus Spreckels (1828-1908) outside of his early California Sugar Refineries in San Francisco, CA. It was also the largest beet sugar refinery in the US at the time it opened. An immigrant from the German State of Hanover, Spreckels undertook several occupations before finding his fortune, beginning in the grocery business in South Carolina, transplanted it to New York, NY, and then became a brewer in San Francisco. Part of the brewing process requires sugar, and Spreckels may have seen the greater profitability of sugar as a constituent part of many foods. He established sugar refineries in San Francisco during the 1860s. With his initial sweet success, Spreckels branched into purchasing real estate, most for agricultural purposes, in the Pajaro Valley and later the Salinas Valley.

In 1888, Spreckels opened this mammoth beet sugar refinery inside the city limits of Watsonville, nearby to Southern Pacific Railroad's passenger depot. Business proved brisk, and Spreckels successfully enticed local farmers to switch to sugar beet cultivation en masse. To facilitate efficient transportation of sugar beets from farm to factory, Spreckels financed his own railroad, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad (PVCRR) founded on 12/30/1889. By 1892, he expanded the narrow-gauge PVCRR to a length of 42 miles, connecting his operations in both valleys. The PVCRR had its northern terminus at the Watsonville plant. The PVCRR connected it with a new and even larger refinery opened in 1898 in the company town of Spreckels, CA (near Salinas). The PVCRR's southern terminus stood south of the Spreckels plant near Buena Vista to serve farmers in the Salinas Valley.

In 1896, the Western Beet Sugar Company complex was managed by W. C. Waters. It contained two main buildings--a four-story processing plant and similarly sized bolier house--as well as a host of other buildings, many used for rail transport and warehousing, including a three-bay engine house, railroad turntable, water tower, storage sheds, and five long sidings. The four-story processing building was a timber-frame building, painted with metallic paint on the exterior and white on the interior. The first floor had a concrete surface. Extensive wood beams supported the three plank floors above each fireproofed by a sheating of bituminous rock. The first floor contained pumps,a dynamo, 12 refueling tanks and 12 saturation tanks; centrigual pumps were located on an intermediate floor between the first and second levels. The second had four evaporative bodies, two heaters, two sugar mixers, two sugar moppers, 15 filter presses, and a water tank, and the third, squeezers, pans and liquor tanks, and the fourth, pans and filter presses. An attic held liquor tanks and two water tanks.

Building Notes

A contemporary writer extolled the economic importance of the Western Beet Sugar Company to the city of Watsonville and its surroundings: "The importance of the beet sugar factory to the city of Watsonville cannot be estimated in exact figures. The plain and by no means artistic building is really the heart which pumps the life blood of the city's trade through every artery and vein of the whole community. Remove the factory, and Watsonville would be struck a staggering blow. Not that there is any danger of the factory being removed. It is in an ideal location, and there it will stay for many and many a year to come. About it are twined all the business interests of the place. From it are distributed the thousands of dollars that keep full the channels of profitable trade, that remunerate the rancher, pay his help, his store bills, and fatten his comfortable bank account. The presence of this unfailing and eager market for his products keeps up the values of the farmer's acres. The monthly wages distributed to employees find their way into the hands of business and keep alive the prosperity which does not desert Watsonville in any stress of financial or industrial depression. The beet sugar factory is the Pandora's horn, monthly shaken above Watsonville, full of all good things." (See Phil Francis, Santa Cruz County; a Faithful Reproduction in Print and Photography of its Climate, Capabilities, and Beauties. [San Francisco: Press of H.S. Crocker, 1896], p. 108-111.)

The plant was served by two railroads, Spreckels's own railroad, the Pajaro Valley Railroad Company and the Southern Pacific. The Watsonville refinery served as one terminus point of the Pajaro Valley line Derek Whaley commented on the signficance of two competing concerns serving the same large client: "Thus, rather uniquely for the region, the Western Beet Sugar refinery was catered to by two entirely independent railroad companies which used two different gauge tracks to accomplish similar goals. For a brief time, the factory was a hub of activity and commerce in the Watsonville area, symbolized by the cooperation of the two railroad companies." (See Derek Whaley, Santa Cruz Trains, "Spreckels Beet Sugar Refinery," accessed 08/05/2016.)


The factory complex has been demolished.

PCAD id: 18781