East Tawas, Michigan – Where Fools Rushed In


At the turn of the 20th century, Michigan, a state that had pegged its economic fortune to the lumber industry, began to accept the fact that it had sold its heritage for pennies on the dollar. The wood that had been its economic pillar was gone! For sixty years, lumberjacks raged across the state, from Lake Michigan on the west shore of the state to Lake Huron on the east shore and from Lake Erie in the south to Lake Superior at its northern end , uprooting the forests and leaving behind an economic depression. , an ugly environment and despair.

Little by little, the leaders of the state became aware of a new industry, which did not reduce resources but rather added resources – agriculture, in particular agricultural products which included processing plants. The developing beet sugar industry is perfectly suited. Michigan Sugar Company's new plant in Essexville, a suburb of Bay City, has proven beyond doubt that farmers, industrialists and venture capitalists can profit equally by raising and processing sugar beets in table sugar. Soon, the rush to build beet sugar factories turned into a large-scale rush. The Michigan sugar beet industry has intensified at an astounding rate.

Nine factories have followed the successful experience of Essexville. An explosion of cyclonic enthusiasm sparked a mad rush when investors, builders, bankers and farmers combined their energies and skills to bring eight factories to life in one year! It was in 1899 that new factories were built in Holland, Kalamazoo, Rochester, Benton Harbor, Alma, West Bay City, Caro and a second factory in Essexville. In Marine City, investors, inspired by the success of Essexville, paid $ 557,000 to Kilby Manufacturing to build Michigan's tenth sugar beet plant. Despite the shortage of factory builders and engineers to operate them, fourteen additional factories grew on the outskirts of Michigan cities over the next six years, the last of which appeared in Charlevoix in 1906. Fifteen years later, Monitor Sugar Company built the state's twenty-fourth and final beet factory.

Unfortunately, the unrestrained enthusiasm for the new sugar beet sweets often led to the construction of factories in places that had not won the hearts of farmers. One such place was East Tawas, a charming village on the shore of Lake Huron that would one day attract tourists who were looking for its sandy beaches and gently lapping waves on Lake Huron. But until 1903, East Tawas, like most of Michigan, relied on the lumber industry for its daily rates. When the lumber barons wrapped their money bags and left for greener pastures, investors turned to the beet sugar industry which was burning as strong as that of the telecommunications industry would break out almost a century later. Instead of fame and fortune, however, East Tawas has earned the distinction of having a nearby candy factory that would have the shortest lifespan of any Michigan beet candy.

The total operating life of its two-year lifespan was twenty-nine days, eighteen in the first year and eleven in the second and final year. The total weight of the sliced ​​beets during this period was 17,648 tonnes, far from enough to bear the overhead costs of the plant, let alone for the investors. Some have named it Folly de Churchill in honor of Worthy Churchill, president of the Bay City-Michigan Sugar Company.

While the construction of the Bay City sugar factory in Essexville was underway, Worthy Churchill wanted to secure a sugar beet growing area somewhere north of Bay City where inexpensive and unused woodlands awaited someone. One for better use. Coincidentally, East Tawas was burdened by a bankrupt sawmill located a fork on the road a few kilometers north of the city, where today the United States 23 intersects with Tawas Beach Road. Its proximity to Lake Huron offered a convenient source of water. Railway lines built to transport lumber from sawmills would now carry sugar to the site. Residents of East Tawas, like residents of villages across the state, were reluctant to leave even though its gently rolling hills, once covered with magnificent white pines, were now barren. Rich soils drifted from unprotected hills to settle in moss-covered swamps. Jack pine, short and crooked, and weeds grew in dry crevices near the edges of swamps.

The people of East Tawas are calling for a sugar beet factory. The fledgling industry was three years old, but already legends implying sudden wealth and entire communities rescued from extinction have caused an uproar for one person in their community. Significantly, others who had made substantial investments in the new industry did not respond to the call. Among those absent were the most successful pioneer sugar manufacturers: Ben Boutell, the brothers Penoyar William and Wedworth, Nathan Bradley, Rasmus Hansen, Thomas Cranage and each of the other major investors in Michigan's then existing sugar industry. This left Worthy Churchill who showed his support with an investment of $ 50,000 and Charles B. Warren, a representative of the Sugar Trust, threw $ 25,000 into the pot. Warren's colleague and friend Charles Bewick, a Detroit industrialist, signed for $ 50,000 and accepted a vice-presidency while Warren added the title of treasurer to his growing list of responsibilities. Eugene Fifield of Bay City, who had gained a reputation with investors as someone who worked well with farmers, added his name to the list of shareholders and a thousand dollars in cash. The citizens of the more modest means took note of the important commitments of the men of power and plunged into small savings to follow suit.

Churchill, keen to move the wheels and very satisfied with Joseph Kilby's performance in the construction of the Essexville plant of the Bay City Sugar Company, prepared to name him for the East Tawas project . Joseph Kilby made an offer of $ 598,500. Based on each thousand tonnes of beet slicing capacity, the price was nearly fifty percent higher than the cost of the Essexville factory, indicating a abandonment of the small, rapidly-built factory. larger facilities including quality engineering and equipment. However, Vice President Charles Bewick said not to hold on so quickly. He too had a candidate for the construction contract. Bewick had acquired some experience at Caro and Croswell where new factories had been built. He was then the first president of the Sanilac Sugar Refining Company, owner of the Croswell plant, and had a long history in the manufacturing sector of Detroit. Among his friends were Joseph Berry, a renowned varnish maker who owned an eight thousand acre farm with his brother Thomas near the middle of Michigan Thumb. The Berry brothers have become major shareholders in the Bewick factory s Croswell with DM Ferry, the largest distributor of garden seeds in the world, all packaged in the vast Detroit Ferry plant.

From Bewick's point of view, Oxnard Construction Company has offered experience, quality and an uninterrupted record of success. Joseph Kilby, on the other hand, was an upstart, a former high ranking officer with EH Dyer who had left alone. Bewick protested Churchill's premature announcement and advanced his choice. Churchill countered and prevailed in opposing Oxnard's practice of submitting cost-plus contracts. He wanted a firm offer and got it from Kilby, whose offer matched dollar for dollar to that of the Churchill plant in Bay City built three years earlier at the cost of a thousand dollars per ton beet slicing capacity. The contract was awarded to Kilby, who in turn assigned the task to John Shepherd, a renowned construction engineer who oversaw the construction of factories in Benton Harbor, Holland and Carrollton.

In the short term, the selection of a manufacturer has hardly changed. Tawas was not the right place to grow beets. Lake Huron lay to the east of the factory site and, although it served well as a source of water, beets couldn't easily root among its waves . The nearby slopes, stripped of trees, would have been a difficult place to grow and care for beets, but even this impractical source of beets had already ceded its soil to newly created swamps. Where the soil was flat, the stumps obstructed agriculture. There was however arable land, but the farmers who owned it lacked experience with sugar beets. Those who succumbed to the persuasive pleas of Gus Carton, the factory agronomist and the chief recruiter of farmers, lost money when they did not produce enough beets per acre to generate a profit.

Kilby field staff under the direction of Jack Shepard performed better than any factory built at the time in Michigan. Shepard, known and respected for her attention to detail, which included extensive water testing – that is, operating the plant with only water to locate the weakness – built a factory that exceeded expectations. The plant sliced ​​five hundred and ninety-four tonnes of beets per day during its inaugural campaign, a clear record, and only six tonnes less than its planned capacity. Unfortunately for Shepard and his crew, there were only 10,690 tonnes of beets available, enough for only eighteen days of operation.

The following year, the frost stayed late, keeping the farmers inside. A late start, combined with an unprofitable harvest the previous year and rumors of the plant closing, prompted farmers to return to traditional crops. The factory only acquired 6,958 tonnes of beets, enough for only eleven days of slicing. Gus Carton has proven to be indomitable. He proposed a plan by which the company would buy land and resell it to Russian immigrants at attractive prices. He attracted the Russians and invested $ 25,000, but did not get the beets, the Russians proving to be no less independent than the farmers already present.

A lightning bolt broke the brick chimney in July 1905. The directors, all experienced investors, knew better than adding more capital. The chimney was where it fell and arrangements were made to ship the beet crop to a Bay City beet plant. A disaster also struck St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where a beet factory burned down. The East Tawas Board of Directors considered the fire to be an opportunity. When the beets intended for st. The Louis Park plant has moved to another plant, their quality has aroused interest, especially the beets from Chaska, Minnesota. At the request of the board of directors, Kilby dismantled the East Tawas factory and relocated it to Chaska where it remained in operation for the next sixty-five years.

East Tawas has slowly recovered from the loss of the lumber industry and its bankrupt sugar factory and is now an ideal destination for tourists who appreciate the national forest neighboring Huron, Lake Huron and Tawas Bay, and the AuSable River made popular by canoeists and fishermen and the Tawas Point Lighthouse, in operation since 1876, part of Tawas Point State Park . He does not plan to encourage the construction of another sugar refinery in the near future.

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