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Not such a sweet life at the historic New Smyrna Beach sugar mill ruins

View of arches and coquina walls
View of arches and coquina walls
Cynthia A. Scarborough

Looking for an educational and history steeped family outing? Not far from Daytona Beach, just off the SR 44 commercial corridor in New Smyrna Beach, hidden away in a wooded area is a historic structure dating back to the 1830’s. A small single lane dirt drive barely visible from Mission Road leads to a former sugar mill for Cruger-Depeyster.

The original Cruger-Depeyster site consisted of 600 acres. Today it encompasses only about 17 acres. However, the New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill site is still able to provide visitors with insight into a time when construction was accomplished without power tools and labor was provided by slaves. The ruins are a good example of the architecture of the time, with builders relying on local materials including coquina (periwinkle shell). With equipment brought from New York, Cruger and Depeyster set up a sugar mill. With the forced labor of African-Americans, the factory processed sugar cane. The cane was crushed to extract the juice. The juice was heated in huge kettles or vats and processed down into syrup which was then ladled into cooling troughs. Once the sugar had crystallized it was packed in barrels and stored. As the syrup dried, molasses dripped out of the kegs. The molasses was then used to produce rum. The work was hot, fraught with dangers from boiling kettles, simmering syrup, and long hours for over-worked laborers. Such conditions encouraged some slaves to escape and join with the Seminole tribes in the area.

The mill was worked until about 1835 when the Seminoles initiated hostilities following broken treaties and an effort to relocate them to the Oklahoma Territories. The sugar mill was abandoned during this time. The site fell into disrepair. Parts of the mill were dismantled early in the 1900’s to use for construction purposes. Vandalism also took its toll. However, portions of thick coquina walls that made up the sugar mill still stand, although they are crumbling in places and covered in lichen. Some of the vats that were used to render the sugar cane syrup are also on site. They give evidence of an earlier way of life that required stamina and back breaking labor.

Admission to the Sugar Mill Ruins is free and it’s open daily from sunrise to sunset. The ruins are just northwest of the New Smyrna Beach post office at 600 Mission Road. It’s difficult to see the one-lane entrance drive because it’s only marked by a small brown sign. There are a few picnic tables on site but be warned, the place is a popular hang-out for mosquitoes. Bring lots of bug spray. For more information, contact 1-386-427-2284.