The US Virgin Islands are more than beaches, spirits and palm trees. The islands have centuries of history and culture to share. Approximately two-thirds of the island of St. John comprises the Virgin Islands National Park. Much of the park is underwater, which you can see via snorkeling; but, there are many interesting hiking trails and historic sites on land, too.
Welcome to the Annaberg Sugar Mill!
The Annaberg Sugar Mill Plantation Ruins comprise the Annaberg Historic District in the Virgin Islands National Park. Sugar plantations were abundant in this region throughout the 19th century. Though originally grown in India, Columbus brought sugar to the Caribbean, where it thrived. You’ve heard “Cotton was King” in reference to the US South. Well, here “Sugar was King.” In 1758, a Dutch immigrant, Salomon Zeeger, purchased the property and named it Annaberg in honor of his wife Anna. Though its namesake, the Zeegers did not construct the mill, which dates to ca. 1800. An Irish merchant,James Murphy, purchased many adjacent properties, including Annaberg, to create his sugar estate. Sugar product continued on the plantation long after his death in 1808.
In this historic district are ruins of slave cabins, a magass (drying) shed, a windmill tower, a horse mill, an oven, a boiling house, a curing house and overseers’ quarters, a water cistern and a dungeon, a still house, a rum still, a firing trench and an ox pound.
The trail sign at the Annaberg Sugar Mill. There are 16 points along the trail, though not the same number of informational panels.
When we visited, we were fortunate that volunteer interpreters were on site to give us a helpful lesson on the boiling house. They also handed us a detailed walking tour, which supplemented the few interpretive panels throughout the site. (My knowledge of the site comes from the NPS walking tour brochure, which is very well done.) We found the site to be in need of additional interpretive signage, especially because the volunteers are only on site for a few months out of the year. Without the brochure and/or the guides, it is much harder to understand the site.
The view near the windmill. Not a bad view for the volunteers and park rangers!
The windmill, which rotated by an attached pole. Rollers crushed sugar cane, which ran into a tank where it stayed until it was ready for processing,
Looking up and through the windmill.
The cook house, where bread was prepared for workers.
Standing inside the boiling house. On the left you can see where the coppers (kettles) were located in order to boil the cane juice down to sugar. Boiling sugar required a lot of attention and skill.
Close up of boiling house wall. The walls were constructed of volcanic rock set into a mortar composed of sand, fresh water, molasses and quicklime from seashells and coral.
Boiling house doorway with wood frame remaining.
Exterior of boiling house.
View looking through the boiling house windows towards the windmill.
View from the horse mill. Horses walked in a large circle in order to substitute for the lack of wind and windmill power on a calm day.
We loved the Annaberg Sugar Mill site for more than the view; the buildings are fascinating. It is a site very different from those throughout the continental United States (though the boiling house reminded me of smelting iron and similar processes, which was a good reference point). Ruins are always intriguing, and historical context and information heightens appreciation and awe of such sites. If you are visiting St. John, the Annaberg Plantation is a must. (A tip: make sure you get the walking tour and read it before you walk around, wondering what the unidentified buildings are.)
Read a detailed history of Annaberg Plantation, from the National Park Service. View the HABS drawings, from the Library of Congress. See the HABS photographs.