The History of the Historic Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ryan Socash of It’s History takes a look at the historic Domino Sugar Refinery, which processed 60% of all refined sugar across the United States in the 20th Century from its location in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood in New York City. In fact, the Havemeyer family, who owned the refinery, had started their company in Manhattan but decided that the Williamsburg location on the East River was better suited for import and export of goods.

Although the family was initially established in Manhattan, they began building refineries and plants in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn around 1855. The reason for this location change was the close proximity to the East River Waterfront which allowed for easy transportation of the raw sugar coming in and the refined sugar being transported out.

The Williamsburg location remained the primary refinery for a long time, however around 1922, the company expanded operations outside of New York.

The times began to change. the American sugar refining company and its Domino brand of sugar had grown so popular that the company decided to expand operations outside of New York. In 1922 a plant was built in Baltimore, and in the following years new facilities including other refineries, were built in Philadelphia and New Orleans. This decreased the importance of the Williamsburg Refinery overall, as they were no longer the lone source of American sugar refining.

Domino Sugar Refinery Williamsburg

Many plants and refineries across the country began to close down, leaving the historic Domino sugar refinery as the only one of its kind still standing in Williamsburg by the 1970s. Also around this time the American Sugar Refining Company was renamed Amstar only for the company to be purchased by the Tate and Lyle firm in the 1980s before American Sugar, now operating under their previous name. …in the early 2000s…. though the Domino Sugar brand remained and the refinery still held on to its famous title … until in 2000 when the entire facility was eventually just shut down.

In 2014, artist Kara Walker created a 35 foot tall sculpture of a female figure in a sphinx-like pose made completely out of 40 tons of refined sugar as a tribute to the workers of the sugar trade. The refinery was purchased and refurbished by Two Trees Management. They also developed the waterside Domino Park with tribute to the former owner and built several apartment buildings along the Williamsburg waterfront.

If you were to walk down the pathway running through the middle of Domino Park, you would see many structures along the mass construction projects, namely many different types of apartments and housing. It may be hard to imagine but the surrounding area was once the central hub of sugar refineries nearly a century ago.