A history of Layton’s ‘sweetest’ street

A history of Layton’s ‘sweetest’ street

The Davis Clipper
November 7, 2018

Sugar Street, on Layton City’s west side, truly is the “sweetest” road in Layton. For almost half of the 20th Century, the street was home to one of the largest factories in northern Utah – a sugar plant that employed up to 500 men.

The factory and warehouse were originally built to house up to 110,000 bags of sugar, produced from sugar beets, when it opened in 1915. Farmers from all over North Davis County shipped sugar beets to the plant for processing.

Kent Day, Layton historian, told the Deseret News back in 2001 that two generations of Layton residents grew accustomed to the sights, sounds and smells of Layton’s sugar factory. The black smoke of the factory, the 4 p.m. whistle at the end of the workday and wagonloads of beets on Gentile Street were things Layton residents used to count on.

“But hardly anyone longs for a whiff of beet pulp from boots sitting next to the kitchen stove,” Day wrote in his history of Layton’s sugar beet industry.

By 1913, Layton had sugar beets on 700 acres. However, they had to be shipped to a factory in Lehi for processing and an extra shipping charge made farmers increasingly unhappy. That’s why the Layton Sugar Co. started in 1915.

According to the Davis County Clipper of Dec. 4, 1914, sugar beets from the Layton area – before the factory opened – had to be shipped out by railroad. That year, 341 rail cars were used to ship the beets out of Layton. Each car could hold up to 80,000 pounds. It was estimated that Layton farmers would receive a combined $70,000 ($1.75 million in today’s dollar values) for their beet crops.

Layton residents, with the help of Davis County officials, started a committee in December 1914, to study how to get a sugar factory in town. Layton quickly lured a possible factory. The Knight Sugar Company originally wanted to move all the equipment from its operation in Raymond, Alberta, Canada, to Layton. That plant had not received the expected support from farmers there. However, relocating the old equipment proved impractical and in the end Layton received an all-new sugar factory, valued at $455,000 ($11.2 million in 2018 dollar values).

The Layton plant was built on 60 acres of land, formerly owned by J.H. Layton and Harriet E. Ellison.

Construction began in March 1915 and was completed by early October of that year. The factory had access to a new spur line of the Oregon Shortline railroad.

The Layton Sugar Plant had three initial controversies. The first was a brief strike by construction workers and the second was a strike by painters at the site. The other conflict was with the Ogden Sugar Plant, which wanted to keep farmers’ crops from Syracuse and West Point. Layton finally secured the sugar beets from those two towns and a beet dump at Syracuse, near 4500 West and 1700 South, was established.

The sugar beet industry was so brisk in 1918 that a hotel was actually built about 400 feet west of Sugar Street at 465 North to house some sugar factory workers, who didn’t live in the area. It was open until the 1940s.

An eventual offshoot of Layton’s sugar beet industry was also that Gentile Street got paved in 1923 – much sooner than other rural roads in Davis County – because farm wagons laden with beets cut deep ruts in the road, the main access to Sugar Street and the factory.

Although production of sugar beets in World War II reached 80,000 tons, the demand for government housing began to make a dent in the available agricultural land. After the war, housing continued to increase and that, coupled with more farmers taking jobs at Hill Air Force Base and more imported sugar cane, led to the factory’s demise.

The sugar factory closed in 1959 and was demolished in 1972, though the factory’s warehouse remained until 2001, when it was finally leveled. The demolition of the 86-year-old Sugar Street warehouse in August 2001, northeast of the Smith’s Food plant, meant the tallest reminder of a bygone agricultural era vanished from the increasingly urban landscape in west Layton.

James Layton, former mayor of Layton, grew up in west Layton, near the warehouse.

“There’s a lot of stories about that place,” he told the Deseret News in 2001, referring to tales like children being sewn inside 100-pound sacks and left for several hours as pranks. The former mayor said he felt little sadness with the demise of the warehouse because the old sugar factory, located in the same area but demolished in 1972, was much more significant. An industrial park is now located on the former sugar factory/warehouse property.

Another important part of Sugar Street’s sugary history is with Smith’s Food and Drug, which constructed its regional offices, plus dough/dairy plants and a distribution warehouse on Sugar Street, opened in 1985. The plants still produce ice cream and various sweet pastries, to continue a sweet legacy on Sugar Street.

Smith’s Foods also built taller warehouses, which eclipsed the Sugar Factory warehouse being the tallest building in town at the time.

And, so the “sweet” legacy of the road continues. Also, because of all the regular semi traffic to the Smith’s Food Plant, Sugar Street is still frequented by heavy truck traffic at all hours of the day, like it was during the Sugar Factory’s heyday.

– OTHER SOURCES: Davis County Clipper Archives and the Ogden Standard-Examiner Archives.