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Dossier: August Ehlen's Iconic Sugar Beet

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective® (aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00014, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: August and Louie Ehlen, Sugar Beet Growers

AUGUST H. EHLEN (1896-1952), GWS Sugar Beet Grower (image c. 1939), Stories of sprinkled sugar connections to the Brighton Great Western Sugar (GWS) Co. are many, but this image of August H. Ehlen holding a prize sugar beet, is one of the most iconic. The Claus Ehlen farmstead was located in Brighton in Section 25, Township 1 S., with the Fulton Ditch running diagonally across the farm. Claus willed the land south of the Fulton ditch to his son, August H. Ehlen, and the land north to his son, Louis “Louie” J. Ehlen.

President Eisenhower Visits GWS & Growers

Louie J. Ehlen, August’s brother, was also a sugar beet grower for Brighton’s GWS factory. Louie had the honor to represent Brighton GWS growers when President Eisenhower visited Brighton’s GWS showcase factory in Sept. 1954. It is the one big story the community still loves to tell with local pride.

GWS chose Brighton as the sugar factory’s showcase facility. State-of-the-art equipment was installed, including the company’s first pulp drier. From elementary school tours to red-carpet dignitary welcoming events, the Brighton factory was proudly exhibited as the sugar-beet industry leader. A special visitor’s gate welcomed visitors and sidewalks led visitors across expansive lawns and manicured landscaping up to the main-office entrance.

When the factory opened, it could process six hundred tons of beets per day. By 1976, the factory was capable of slicing around 2,250 tons of sugar beets per day ― the equivalent of 5,400 100-pound bags of sugar. Each fall, over 100,000-acres of beets were processed at the factory during an approximate 85-day period.

The President toured the factory’s packaging department and met with the local labor union president before going to the office for a conference on sugar beet quotas and problems. The President then left the factory to travel to the nearby Louie J. Ehlen farm (the site of a current farm at 13022 E. 136th Ave.), where approximately 50 local farmers had gathered. There, the President inspected the Ehlen sugar beet crop and talked briefly with Mr. and Mrs. Ehlen. The president even gingerly tasted a bite of a sugar beet from the field.

The event was remembered by the Brighton community in fond detail, from the President arriving in Brighton in a black Cadillac and greeting an assembly behind the Secret-Service-placed ropes. He then transferred to a red convertible for a ride down Main St. to the GWS factory. The Brighton Blade reported, due to a specific Secret Service request, no advance publicity or town arrangements were made to “dress up” the city or let the children out of school for the occasion. It was even said that Louie’s wife, Martha, had loaned Mamie Eisenhower (who had grown up in Denver), a dress during the Brighton visit. (The reason of need is unknown, but the story has lived on as a favorite of locals.)

©2015-2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from Brighton’s Sugar Sweet Times, Colorado “White Gold” ― Beet Sugar, and A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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