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.

Historic Sites on the Reef Bay Trail

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The Virgin Islands National Park is rich with hiking trails throughout the park, one of which is the Reef Bay Trail. It begins on Centerline Road, which as you can infer, twists and turns across the center of the island. Although just under five miles from Cruz Bay  (the town where the ferry docks), the 20 mph speed limit, curving roads, and left side of the road driving will make those five miles feel much longer. On the way  you’ll have terrific views. If you’re not driving, you can probably enjoy them.

When you see the trail sign, park on the side of the road.

We chose the Reef Bay Trail because it is well recommended by locals and travel books, and more importantly, because there are ruins of four sugar estates and the trail ends on a beach. Packed with lunch, water and the camera, we were ready for an adventure. Reef Bay Trail is marked with a standard brown & white NPS sign. Park on the side of the road and walk down a stone staircase to the trailhead. Unlike most trails, the downhill is the first half rather than the second. Parts of the trail are technical, while others are easy walking on a dirt path.

An interpretive panel at the beginning of the trail.

At the trailhead.

The beginning of the trail is through a forest, wet and dense, green and leafy. Along the way, large trees of plant types are identified. Early on in the trail, we came across a Danish drainage ditch, channeling from the road down into the forest. Call me a transportation nerd (Vinny does), but I found it fascinating to see a historic drainage ditch. Talk about well planned roads.

Drainage gutter, built in the 18th and 19th centuries by Danish road engineers. Proper drainage kept the roads in good, lasting condition. Some were paved with volcanic rock.

A drainage ditch, look up and down the center of the photograph.

While it’s difficult to see the drainage gutter in this photograph, it is very apparent in person and continues further down. There were a few more on the trail, likely until the trail diverted away from the modern road.

Around the middle of the hike, we encountered historic building ruins. Associated with this set of ruins is a horse mill, similar to the one at Annaberg Sugar Mill.

Ruins of a building adjacent to the horse mill.

A tree grows through this wall.

This section looks like a staircase.

We continued on through this drier portion of the trail. After a little while, the trail leveled, indicating that it would be a good spot for building. Sure enough, we came across the ruins of the Par Force Village, which was a workers’ community. The stone foundation for one building remains. Workers lived here until the 1940s, decades after the sugar mill closed, raising cattle and crops.

The interpretive sign, looking a bit shabby.

Par Village Ruins

From here the trail continued to be flat and an easy walk. The vegetation changed and we saw many small critters – little lizards and soldier crabs scuttling across the trail.


Flatter trail and stone wall, which was part of a sugar plantation.

Pineapple grows underground; these are pineapple plants.

As we hiked, I wondered if the trail was a historic path, the one used by workers, slaves and owners of the sugar plantations.

Sandy soil and different trees were the scenery as we get closer to the beach.

Some of the trail looked like a forest from a fairy tale.

The trail ended at the Reef Bay Sugar Mill, another beautiful historic site in the park, just before landing at the beach. Read more about the Reef Bay Trail history here.

The next USVI post will feature the Reef Bay Sugar Mill.  

Other USVI posts: Preservation Photos #122. Annaberg Sugar Mill. Preservation Photos #121. Home Sweet Home.