How sweet it is

Sugar has long sweetened the economy of Yonkers and its art.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, what a story David Putnam Brinley’s “Hudson River View (Sugar Factory at Yonkers)” (circa 1915, oil, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers) tells. Its canvas teems with Paul Cezanne-style blocks of color, capturing buildings and boxcars, Palisade cliffs and plumes of smoke in a tribute to the Industrial Sublime school of American Modern art.

Sugar has long sweetened the economy of Yonkers and its environs, beginning with London refiner William Havermeyer, who with his brother Frederick brought W. & F.C. Havermeyer Co. to Manhattan in 1807. Fifty-two years later, they changed their name to Havemeyer, Townsend and Co. Refinery and moved their business, which processed slave-grown sugar cane, to Williamsburg. A refinery fire and antitrust action against the Sugar Trust in the late 19th century didn’t stop the business, which evolved into the American Sugar Refining Co., one of the original 12 companies to make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The company added five more refineries, including one in Yonkers, and changed its name in 1900 to Domino Sugar. More than 100 years later it became Domino Foods. That same year, 2001, Tate & Lyle, a British company that had bought Domino in 1988, sold it to Florida Crystals Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. Domino thus became part of American Sugar Refining Inc., not to be confused with the old American Sugar Refining Co. (In the sugar business, ownership can get a bit, uh, sticky.)

While the Williamsburg plant is gone, Domino in Yonkers is still going strong, employing more than 300 people at the refinery, according to its Facebook page, and producing four million-plus pounds of sugar a day for its distinctive blue-banded white and yellow packages.

And the Yonkers plant has continued to inspire culture, sponsoring the Hudson River Museum’s 2017 exhibit “I Want Candy: The Sweet Stuff in American Art.” 

Now that’s sweet.

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