Sweet and bitter times at New Smyrna Sugar Mill Ruins

There’s a little dirt and gravel one-lane path that winds off the asphalt paved surface of Mission Road, southwest of the New Smyrna Beach Post Office. Look for a narrow entrance between cedar and palm trees just west of the intersection of Mission Drive and Old Mission Road. Don’t blink or glance down to check your messages or you’ll miss it! Drive slowly down the pothole pitted roadway at 600 Old Mission Road to the designated parking area for the New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill Ruins. If you come after it has been raining, then chances are you’ll get your shoes or sandals muddy. The land is low, and water tends to collect. Year round, it’s best if you come prepared to use bug repellent – the mosquitoes can be quite aggressive.

The ruins stand in a clearing among old-growth oaks, cedars and palms. Even though it’s right off a busy roadway, the park feels isolated. Most times, there is nobody in sight. Get out of your car and head on over to the Cruger and DePeyster Sugar Mill Ruins. They are reminders of an earlier era. By US standards, these ruins are old. By European or Asian standards, they are relatively current. Not that it matters. They still help to build on the history of the New Smyrna Beach, Florida area.

The walls that remain are a testament to the early architects who employed the use of coquina rock in construction. Coquina is a limestone made of the compressed shells of billions of coquina (small clam-like mollusks) which when merged with quartz sand, became flakey, rust-colored rock sediment over cycles of time. The coquina rock was dug up and then formed into blocks for construction.

Sugar was a treasured commodity during the early 1800s, and Florida was an area where the cultivated sugar cane thrived. Of course, to turn a profit, the sugar cane planters needed to keep their costs down. That’s why they relied on slave labor. Whether African or Native American, it didn’t matter. It was a hot, dangerous job to grind or press the cane by steam engine and then boil the oozing liquid down into syrup after skimming off the impurities. After processing the syrup until it crystallized, the raw sugar was packed into barrels to dry and then sent north. White men usually just oversaw the operation and didn’t participate in the hard, manual labor associated with the sugar production. A cane crusher and huge, rusted kettles formerly used for boiling cane juice are the only equipment left on the site.   In addition to the sugar mill, Cruger and DePeyster structures also housed a saw mill.

The sugar mill and saw mill productions came to a screeching halt with the advent of the Seminole Wars (there were three conflicts). Hostilities between the tribes and the settlers escalated. In 1835, during the Second Seminole War, the Seminoles aided by escaped slaves managed to rout the inhabitants living near the Cruger and DePeyster mill. Fires from the fight burned most of the surrounding crops and even the buildings. Look closely at the coquina walls and you’ll see evidence of the arson on their scorched, soot-blackened surfaces.

The Cruger and DePeyster Sugar Mill Ruins are of historical significance for the state of Florida. The US National Register of Historic Places listed the ruins in 1970. The site is open daily between sunrise and sunset.

 

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