Reef Bay Sugar Mill

And the cold weather has returned to Vermont. And because Mother Nature has a sense of humor, it is snowing today whereas last Monday I drove with my windows open and wore short sleeves. Anyway, I’m sure you all have similar crazy weather patterns.

So, let’s go back to the USVI, shall we? We left off at the end of the Reef Bay Trail hike, which brings us to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. Originally a cattle and cotton plantation, it was converted to a sugar plantation and sugar cane production in the late 18th century.

The Reef Bay Sugar Mill, as seen from the horse mill.

This sugar mill is part of a National Register of Historic Places as the Reef Bay Sugar Factory Historic District. While the Virgin Islands are home to many sugar factory ruins, the Reef Bay mill is the best preserved example, partially because it operated longer and later than any other mills. One reason for its longevity is that production power was converted to steam power in the 1860s. You’ll recall that the Annaberg Sugar Mill operated off wind and horse power.

View from the trail.

You can see, outside and inside this section of the factory, the steam power mechanisms. This engine room was built to house the mechanisms.

The steam engine.

In this picture, take note of the frame and sheet metal roof over the ruins. This is a common method (adding a lightweight roof) to protect a site without altering its features. The roof is clearly distinguishable from the historic building.

Inside the factory, these boiling coppers are more visible than those at Annaberg. This is where the sugar was boiled and processed.

Individual view of one of the coppers.

Looking into the boiling house.

Weathered door frame, hinges and building masonry.

Weathered bricks. All of the weathered and worn masonry provided excellent color contrast, which made the site even more interesting.

The Reef Bay Sugar Mill was documented by the Historic American Engineering Record, and if you look at the photographs in that collection, you’ll see that it was documented prior to site stabilization and the sheet metal roof.  The site operated as a sugar factory until the early 20th century. Read the data pages of the HAER documentation for a full history.

The only downside of the trail and the historic site is the poor condition of the interpretive panels, which have faded and developed a tacky surface, which make reading the information difficult on some. Obviously, the Virgin Islands National Park faces budget cuts, like all other parks, but it is a shame that the history has to suffer. If you want to get the most out of your visit, read background information on the site or the HAER documentation before you go.  The views, the scenery and the historic site are certainly worth a hike down the Reef Bay Trail.

Other USVI posts: Preservation Photos #122. Annaberg Sugar Mill. Preservation Photos #121. Home Sweet HomeHistoric Sites on the Reef Bay Trail.

4 thoughts on “Reef Bay Sugar Mill

  1. Joshua Phillips says:

    Nice post Kaitlin- great photos! It’s ironic and sad to continuously run into deferred maintenance and other budget problems at our National (and State!) Parks at the same time that so many of them are being loved to death by visitation.

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