Holly Sugar was founded by Kenneth Schley in 1905 in Holly, Colorado, the small agricultural town on the Arkansas River near the Kansas border. In its first year, the company processed locally-grown sugar beets into 60,000 100-pound bags at its Holly facilities and soon expanded with another factory in Swink, just west on the Arkansas River. Sugar beet processing consolidated at the Swink factory and the Holly plant closed in 1915.
The company expanded in 1911 when it bought into sugar production in Orange County, California, enlarging a factory in Santa Ana and building a new factory at Huntington Beach. This was followed by acquisition or construction of eleven more factories by 1931 in Wyoming, Texas and Montana. Holly Sugar would become the largest independent processor of sugar beets in the country. With the growth of the company in 1911, the headquarters first move to Denver.
In 1916, Colorado Springs resident A. E. Carlton, who made his fortune at Cripple Creek, purchased the company and in 1923 moved its headquarters to the southeast corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue in Colorado Springs. The company purchased the Golden Cycle Office Building at this site to relocate its headquarters, expanding the building several times over the next decades.
With the development of the Chase Stone Center at Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenues in 1967, the company moved into the Holly Sugar Building, Colorado Springs’ first high-rise tower of 14 stories. The Holly Sugar Building became a downtown landmark and tied the identity of Colorado Springs with Holly Sugar. The company merged with Imperial Sugar in 1989, and by 1997 its last employees were relocated to their new headquarters in Sugarland, Texas.
The Holly Sugar Building was briefly renamed for the Vanion Corporation in 2001, is now known as the First Bank Building, but to many residents it will always be the Holly Sugar Building. While Holly Sugar headquarters remained in Colorado Springs until 1989, sugar beet production in the Arkansas River Valley had been declining for decades. The Swink factory closed in 1959, and by the 1970s Arkansas Valley sugar beet farmers found more profit selling their water rights to urban centers rather than growing beets. The last sugar beets in Orange County, CA, were harvested in 1973, and the Santa Ana factory closed in 1982.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs