Nebraska’s sugar beet production began in Grand Island in 1890. To commemorate the birth of a new industry, they threw a party and erected the Grand Island Sugar Palace.
Sugar beets being harvested
The Grand Island Sugar Palace was erected in 1890 to commemorate the birth of the state’s sugar beet industry. Patterned after the Sioux City Corn Palace, the building housed an exposition devoted to the production and processing of sugar beets. A factory was already in operation in Grand Island, and an opening ball that included factory employees was held at the Sugar Palace in August of 1890. Although The New West, a Grand Island temperance weekly, felt that the revelry at the ball had been excessive, it stated on August 27, “The sugar factory, and the sugar industry are God-sends to Nebraska.”
The Grand Island Independent of August 28, 1890, described the building as “about 200 feet square, built in an artistic design.” It went on to describe the interior:
The different rooms represent the different kinds of grain and produce raised in Hall and adjoining counties. The designs are pretty and in keeping with all that is pleasing to the eye. Full-sized figures have been made of grass, wheat, oats, barley, etc., and two large maps-one of Nebraska and one of the United States-have been made from corn, wheat, and oats, showing Grand Island in the centre of the state with her immense railroad facilities, while in the United States map Nebraska is shown as the central attraction.
Sugar beets were used extensively in decorating the interior, and much of the outside ornamentation represented sugar in one form or another.
Dedication exercises took place Sunday afternoon, August 31, 1890. Nebraska Governor John M. Thayer and his staff participated. In the audience were many Union veterans converging on Grand Island for their annual statewide reunion. The state newspapers covered the event with detailed stories. Grand Island’s Mayor Platt sounded the keynote in his address of welcome. He referred to his boyhood when central Nebraska was looked upon as nothing but a desert, unable to sustain an agricultural population. He pointed to the Sugar Palace and all it represented as dramatic evidence that such a belief was false.
From all accounts, the celebration was a success. The railroads brought people to Grand Island from all parts of the West at excursion rates. Newspapers carried extensive accounts, frequently accompanied by an illustration of the novel building.
Grand Island Sugar Palace. Credit: Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer