The Colorado Sanitary Canning Factory at 224 North Main Street in Brighton was built in 1908 to serve as a processing facility for the growing South Platte agricultural community. The factory closed in 1936. Also known as the Brighton Prisoner of War Branch Camp, the facility helped house 589 German prisoners of war during World War II. The factory has stood vacant since the late 1990s, but as of the mid-2010s, Garrison Properties considered converting it into residential lofts.
Setting and Construction
The city of Brighton was incorporated in 1887 in the midst of farms that produced sugar beets, onions, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, and cabbage. Many of the early processing facilities for this produce were located near shipping centers around Denver. After the Wilmore Canning Company’s Denver factory burned down in 1907, the company decided to relocate closer to its produce sources and considered Brighton for the new location. As the company pondered the move, a legal dispute between company president John T. Wilmore and primary stockholder Charles H. Green resulted in Green taking over as president and renaming the business the Colorado Sanitary Canning Company. Green followed through on the Brighton relocation, and the Brighton Commercial Club contributed $1,500 for the new structure as an additional incentive.
Construction on the canning factory began in May 1908. The company hired contractor Patrick Henry Roberts for the job, and local entrepreneur C. C. Cole produced rock-faced concrete blocks for the structure. The main factory building was a large rectangle measuring 120 by 42 feet, with an attached warehouse to the north, an attached boiler plant to the east, and a detached office to the south. The early twentieth-century commercial-style factory was uncommon in its use of custom ornamental concrete blocks. The factory cost $30,000 to complete and was initially stocked with $20,000 worth of industrial machinery.
Operation and Use
The Colorado Sanitary Canning Factory was completed in a matter of months and began production in September 1908. Operating seasonally from early summer to late fall, the factory processed tomatoes, pork and beans, peas, and sauerkraut. At full employment capacity, the cannery provided more than 250 jobs. The factory quickly expanded operational capacity, doubling its production by 1910 and continuing to grow over the next decade. The company added a two-story ketchup room at the southeast corner and a single-story projection on the southern elevation between 1913 and 1920.
Because of rising debts and the death of Charles Green, the company was reorganized as the Platte Valley Canning Company in 1916. World War I stimulated a sharp rise in the global demand for canned and pickled goods, and the Platte Valley Canning Company sent 14,000 cases of canned tomatoes to France in 1918. After the war, an economic recession and falling food prices led to the factory's closure in 1922–24. The Fort Lupton Canning Company acquired the building in 1925 and continued production into the Great Depression before finally closing the factory in 1936.
The factory stood unused until World War II, when the US Army kept German prisoners of war in the building between 1943 and 1946. Several local buildings were used to house the 589 Germans held in the Brighton area, but the majority were housed in the canning factory. The German prisoners worked on nearby farms, filling wartime labor shortages.
In 1947 the Fort Lupton Canning Company sold the Brighton canning factory to Snelson Properties, which then sold it to Jack C. Ferguson in 1950. Ferguson operated a car repair shop next door and used the factory to store and maintain school buses for Adams County. In the early 1950s, he added a concrete ramp, a corrugated metal roof projection, and a one-story projection on the eastern side of the building. In the late 1950s, the Platte Valley Rifle and Pistol Association rented the second floor and built a shooting range, refurbishing the wood floors and erecting a small office.
After Jack Ferguson’s death in 1973, his widow Evelyn continued the family business. The Duffy family purchased the property in 1998, but the factory has sat idle since. In 2015 Garrison Properties of Kansas City expressed interest in converting the building into apartments.
Although the Colorado Sanitary Canning Factory was just one of many food processing and preservation facilities in early-twentieth-century Brighton, it is the only building of its type still standing and in good condition. The factory also remains a good example of improved techniques and technology in the production of ornamental concrete blocks. The factory was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties in 1997 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.