Crystal River, Florida and the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins
The last week of January I traveled to the Crystal River area on the gulf coast of Florida where I wandered around for a few days exploring some short trails in the Crystal River Preserve State Park and the nearby Fort Island Beach. The (relative) warmth, water, and palm trees did my soul good and I lounged quite a bit in addition to walking along the river and gulf. It was a bit too chilly to swim however with the air temperatures barely reaching 60 degrees.
Another really interesting part of my visit to the Crystal River area was a trip to the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins, which began operation in 1849. The Yulee ruin was the first sugar mill I had seen – discounting less complete foundations and remnants – and provided an excellent opportunity to explore the process of making sugar in the nineteenth century.
The process began by feeding the sugar cane between large rollers to extract the juice, which was collected in vats below before being fed into kettles for cooking. The stalks passed through the iron cylinders to be fed into the furnace along with large quantities of wood. Similar to other steam-powered mills, the rollers at Yulee were turned by huge gears powered via flywheel and piston, the latter of which converted steam from the furnace into usable power. A small pump that was also powered by the piston moved water from the wells into the boiler.
After settling in the vats below the rollers, the juice was moved into the largest of the five kettles where it would begin refinement into sugar. The kettles were heated by chimney draft from the furnace and were set up at different distances from the heat so that the juice would flow from coolest (and largest) kettle to hottest (and smallest) as heat and evaporation refined it. After being heated in the last kettle the juice became sugar, and was ladled into wooden troughs which deposited it into wood vats where it crystallized. Eventually as it cooled, the sugar was cut into slices and packed into barrels to be carried to the curing rooms.