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Near Hopkins, Stann Creek, Belize
 

The Serpon Sugar Mill

 
 
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Sugar Cane image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
1. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Sugar Cane
Inscription.
This exhibit is made up of multiple markers inside of an open air information kiosk at the Serpon Sugar Mill.

Sugar Cane
Sugar cane generally is believed to have originated in northern India, the earliest mention of it being in some of the legends concerning Buddha in about the 4th Century B.C. Until the development of field culture, its use for several centuries was restricted to chewing the cane and drinking the juice. From India, the planting of cane probably spread first to China.

The earliest possible evidence of sugar in solid form seems to date from about 500 A.D. in Persia. The original Persian name for white sugar was "kandi-sefid" from which the word "candy" comes. The East Indian word for sugar,"shekar" or "shakar" is probably the origin of the English word, sugar. In its earliest days sugar was a rare delicacy and also was highly valued for medicinal purposes.

Commercial manufacture and refining developed in Egypt during the 9th and 10th centuries. The exportation of sugar was an important part of that country's commerce. The culture of sugar cane spread from the Arabs through northern Africa and southern Europe, at the same time the Chinese were carrying this skill to Java and the Philippines. The Crusaders brought sugar back to France in the 11th and 12th centuries, after which
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Sugar Cane <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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time its commercial development and use became widespread in Europe.

Captions: Sugar stalk
Early sugar cultivation

Sugar Cane continued
Columbus introduced sugar cane into Santo Domingo on his second voyage in 1494, and from there it was caried to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of the West Indies and Central and South America. The industry did not attain immediate importance in North America. By 1600, however, the production of raw sugar from cane grown in tropical America had become the greatest industry in the world. By the end of the 1600's sugar refineries had been built in Germany, France, and England.

The principal variety of cane cultivated at Serpon Estate was the Bourbon Cane. The Bourbon Cane, imported from the Isle of Bourbon, was of a much larger size than other species. It was also easier to grind and yielded well because of its thinner rind and superior sweetness.

Sugar cane was planted in rows from three to five feet apart. In planting, pieces of cane twelve to fifteen inches long were placed in furrows about one foot deep. As the shoots sprang up, the ground was cleared of weeds by hoeing. Cane planted in good land usually was ready to harvest one year after planting. When the cane was ripe and ready for crushing, the stalks were cut about one foot above the ground, leaving the roots to grow again for the
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Introduction of Sugar to Belize image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
3. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Introduction of Sugar to Belize
next year. The leaves were taken off and the top part cut off about one foot from the end. These ends and the leaves were used as fodder for cattle. The canes were then cut in pieces of about four feet long and carted to the mill.

Caption: Example of a sugar plantation

Introduction of Sugar to Belize
The cultivation of sugar cane was introduced to Belize by the Maya and Mestizo refugees who fled from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a result of the 1848 Guerra de Las Castas. These refugees settled in northern Belize and the success they achieved as agriculturist was remarkable. The Northern Districts of Corozal and Orange Walk quickly became the scene of many small flourishing sugar plantations.

During and after the American Civil War (1861-1865), Americans living in the southern United States migrated to Belize. These immigrants settled initially in the Cowpen area of the Toledo District then migrated to different areas, primarily in southern Belize investing large amounts of capital in sugar estates. During the 18th century and early 19th century numerous small sugar mills were established throughout southern Belize.

Two steam powered mills owned by the Serpon and Regalia Sugar Estates were established in 1863 marking the arrival of the industrial era to Belize.

Map of Belize

Introduction of Sugar to Belize
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Introduction of Sugar to Belize <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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continued
The Regalia Estate was initially managed by Mr. de Brame for the owner Mr. Antonio Mathe. Between 1868 and 1874 the Regalia Mill was owned by Young, Toledo and Company after the suicide of Mr. Antonio Mathe and managed by Mr. Samuel McCutchon, a Confederate, of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, USA. Regalia Estate later changed management and ownership in 1882 when Mr. Reginald Ross, an experienced Demerara planter, was named manager for the new owner Mr. Bernard Cramer. The Serpon Estate was, however, managed by its owner Mr. Bowman, a native of Scotland.

By the turn of the century sugar production was found to be more profitable in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, and the Serpon and Regalia mills were eventually abandoned around 1910.

Caption: Sugar factory

The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill
Serpon Sugar Mill can be characterized as semi-mechanized. The sugar cane was crushed in a steam powered mill consisting of three cast-iron rollers placed horizontally in a cast-iron frame. However, the processes of evaporation, purging, and packing were conducted manually by Maya Indians from the neighboring Republics, East Indians from Jamaica and Belizean Negroes. These labourers had twelve month contracts which were strictly regulated by a local ordinance that secured the interest of both Owners and Labourers.
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
5. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill
The ordinary wages were $7.00 per month with ration, (which included pork and flour) or $11 per month without rations.

The various stages of manufacturing sugar from cane may be described as follows:
(1) the extraction of the juice from the cane;
(2) the separation from the juice of all the matter except sugar and water (known as defecation and clarification);
(3) the removal of the water from the sugar (known as reduction or granulation); and
(4) the cleansing of the sugar crystals by washing or draining (known as purging or curing).

The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill continued
At the Serpon Sugar Mill, the sugar cane was fed into the mill by means of a gutter attached to the cast iron frame of the mill onto the rollers. The juice ran into a gutter under the rollers and from there drained into big kettles or collectors. These sphere shaped kettles were primarily used in the production of sugar, appearing in many sizes, depending on the stage and type of operation.

These collectors were kept clean at all times to prevent the start of fermentation that would sour the juice. After the juice had been extracted, it was necessary to remove everything that contaminated it. This was done by adding lime, a strong alkali, which when combined with the albumens in the juice, coagulated.

The juice was heated at
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By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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this stage, and as the temperature rose, more lime was added. A thick, greenish-yellow scum formed at the surface. Boiling was carefully avoided, since it would break up the floating scum and diffuse it throughout the juice. The juice was then allowed to settle until it formed three layers: at the top, the coagulated scum; at the bottom, particulate matter; and in between, a clear and transparent liquid. The scum was removed with perforated ladles attached to long wooden handles.

Caption: Removing the juice from the cane
The steam powered machinery which removed the juice from the cane was housed here.

The fresh-cut cane was mashed between large, rotating iron cylinders and the juice was collected in vats. The crushed cane, called “bagasse”, was piled and used, along with wood as fuel to fire the furnaces. The juice was piped from here to the cooking kettles.

The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill continued
From there, the clear juice flowed to the clarifiers, a set of square cast-iron pans arranged in a row on the evaporating furnace. Heat was then applied to these evaporating pans. These evaporating pans were manufactured with a series of grooves that allowed the cane juice to move from one pan to the other.

The juice was reduced in volume as it passes through the pans. Straining the scum was still
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By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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done at that stage. From there, the juice, further reduced, passed first to the pan known as "syrup" or "sirop," and then to the final pan. In this final pan, the syrup was further reduced, almost to the granulating point, or sufficiently concentrated to separate into grains of sugar upon cooling. At that point, a test was done by touch. A dab of syrup was taken upon the thumb, bringing the forefinger in contact with it, and rolling both fingers to see the length to which a thread of syrup could be drawn before it broke.

Caption: Plan of sugar mill factory circa 1888

The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill continued
The crystallized sugar then went to the coolers, shallow open vessels, each one capable of containing around one hogshead of sugar. They were made of wood so that cooling would be gradual. In about twenty-four hours the sugar formed into a soft mass of crystals imbedded in "melasses." From the coolers the sugar was taken in small carts to the curing or purging house, where it was packed in potting-casks. The “melasses”, still attached to the crystals, was let to drain into a container or reservoir under the casks, leaving the crystals almost dry. At Serpon Sugar Mill, a sugar dryer was used to further dry the raw sugar. Damp granular sugar was introduced to the drying drum. As the drum slowly turns hot air
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
8. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - The Manufacture of Sugar at the Serpon Sugar Mill continued
from the exchanger passes through it in immense volumes. The sugar granules travels along small spiral labyrinths inside the dryer and exits the dryer as dry crystals of raw sugar. At this point, the raw sugar was then fit for shipment.

Typically the yield of sugar ranged from 1 hogshead to 11/3 hogshead of sugar per acre. A hogshead contained 1,700 pounds (17 cwt) on the average. While no records exist to suggest the actual size of the Serpon Sugar Estate, the nearby Regalia estate has 400 acres under sugar cultivation and it would be easy to assume that the Serpon Sugar Estate was similar in size.

Caption: Labourers carrying a hogshead of sugar

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill
Given the proximity of the Serpon Sugar Mill to the coast, the resulting humidity and salt air made it necessary to dismantle and thoroughly clean the engine on a regular basis. The timbers and brickwork of the foundations were inspected for any settling as a result of heavy rains and movements of the machine. Valves, cylinders and rollers were adjusted and oiled. The remains of the Serpon Mill are testament to the care that was put into the maintenance of all the machinery.

Main Crusher
This main crusher is still very much on its original foundation. It is a late three wheel crusher known as a six-oiler, referring to the fact that there are six
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
9. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill
main bearings in the crusher. The main crusher is complimented by a large flywheel and a horizontal mill engine manufactured by D. Stewart and Company Glasgow. This main crusher required tremendous power to run and the engine that supplied power to the main crusher ran nothing else.

Caption: Remains of Main Crusher

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
The engine is a classic horizontal slow speed single piston engine with reverse gear. A reverse gear is very important on this crusher. If the crusher became clogged up from over feeding the engineer was able to stop the engine, back it up to unload the rollers a little and the people on the feeding trays would clear the rollers. The engineer would then put the engine back into forward and start crushing again.

Boiler
Steam was the power of the day at the Serpon Sugar Mill and the tremendous amount of steam needed to run this operation was generated by two 'sill-mounted locomotive style boilers' with dry open bottoms. These English style boilers were fully assembled at the factory and then shipped to the site. Once erected on the brick sills these boilers were ready to be fired. Water was pumped into the drum of the boiler by way of a check valve. A number of flues run along the entire length of the boiler. The heat generated from the firebox then ran through these flues,
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By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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bringing the water in the drum to its boiling point to generate the steam. Excess hot air was vented by means of the smoke stack.

Caption: English style boilers

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
Beam Engine
This engine is a slow speed early English single eccentric beam engine dating to probably 1840 to 1850. It has a unique vertical cylinder that operated totally different from the other engines on the site. Under the beam gantry is the remainder of a typical ‘Two-ball, Governor’. The governor maintained a constant speed on the engine according to the workload. As the workload increases, the arms with the balls slows down and as a result the valves drops and pulls the steam valve open further and admitted more steam to accelerate the engine.

Small Crusher
The small crusher was run by the beam engine and was situated directly beside the flywheel. An interesting feature of this crusher suggest that parts of the Serpon Sugar Mill was put together using parts from different manufacturers, as it has English rollers made by “G. Fletcher& Co London & Derby”, while the frame was of American origin.

Captions: Beam engine
Small crusher

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
Evaporating Furnace
The evaporating section consisted of a seventy five feet long
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
11. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
brick furnace that is characterized by a series of arches throughout the structure. The front of the furnace has a firing arch similar to a boiler's firebox. Located on top of the furnace was a number of sugar evaporating pans, of which three can be found on the remains of the furnace. These pans were set up to slope down hill slightly and were set perfectly leveled from side to side.

Hot Air Exchanger and Sugar Dryer
The hot air heat exchanger sits at the far end of the furnace and functions as an exhaust for the heat travelling down the length of the furnace as well as a supplier of hot air for the sugar dryer. The hot air comes out the end of the brick arch and through a series of small internal pipes, turning around through a head at the other end of this large drum then out through a chimney. The sugar dryer sits adjacent to the hot air exchanger on a rectangular brick base. The cylindrical dryer has a steel fan that is mounted on bearings at the end of the dryer and a small single cylinder steam engine that drives the fan and the large gear on the dryer.

Captions: Evaporating furnace
Hot air exchanger and sugar dryer

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
Locomotive
The small locomotive found at Serpon is quite complete and typical of the type of locomotive used in the cane industry, the logging industry and
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
12. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
dockside work around this time period.

This locomotive was powered at one end by a two-cylinder compound steam engine that drove one axle which in turn drove the other, making the locomotive a four wheel drive.

Interestingly on this particular engine, the smokestack was hinged for low clearance. This engine might have had to pass under small bridges or into a very low building on occasion and the engineer would have had to reach up and flip the smoke stack over in order to enter.

Caption: Locomotive (similar to other Chaplin stlye locomotives)

Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
Tredegar Engine
This small engine was manufactured by Tredegar Iron Works; an early American iron works company that built steam engines. This engine was originally made to sit on the top of a boiler or some other round structure. However, at Serpon this engine was mounted on a well preserved brick foundation. The foundation was manufactured with a buttress at one end to ensure that the tremendous power generated by this belt driven engine did not pull the brickwork off its bases.

The engine has a one piece traditional American flywheel as opposed to the segmented English style flywheels found on other pieces of machinery at Serpon. The main function of the Tredegar Engine was to pump the huge volume of water from the river that
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill <i>continued</i> image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
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was required to run the everyday operation of the mill.

Caption: Tredegar steam powered engine

Institute of Archaeology
Preserving the Past for the Future
NICH
National Institute of Culture and History

The Serpon Sugar Mill Restoration Project was funded with support from the United States of America Ambassadors' Fund for Cultural Preservation, in partnership with the Institute of Archaeology, National Institute of Culture and History.

The Institute of Archaeology would like to express Thanks and Appreciation to all who made a contribution throughout the years in protecting the Serpon Sugar Mill.

Last but certainly not least we are grateful for the hard working members of staff from the Institute of Archaeology Technical Team, as well as the Serpon Restoration Team members from the villages of Sittee River, Maya Center and San Jose Succotz.
 
Erected by Institute of Archaeology and the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH).
 
Location. 16° 49.607′ N, 88° 20.682′ W. Marker is near Hopkins, Stann Creek. Marker can be reached from South Hopkins Road just east of Southern Highway, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Hopkins, Stann Creek 7M44R KS3ZG, Belize.
 
Categories. AgricultureColonial EraIndustry & CommerceMan-Made Features
 
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By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
14. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker - Operation and Maintenance of the Mill continued
The Serpon Sugar Mill Restoration Project dedication marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
15. The Serpon Sugar Mill Restoration Project dedication marker
The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
16. The Serpon Sugar Mill Marker
The markers are in the information kiosk to the left at the Serpon Sugar Mill site. To the right is the guard's booth and ticketing area.
The Serpon Sugar Mill English boilers image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
17. The Serpon Sugar Mill English boilers
The Serpon Sugar Mill Large Crusher image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
18. The Serpon Sugar Mill Large Crusher
The Serpon Sugar Mill Locomotive image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
19. The Serpon Sugar Mill Locomotive
The Serpon Sugar Mill Tredegar steam engine image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, May 10, 2016
20. The Serpon Sugar Mill Tredegar steam engine
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 17, 2018. This page originally submitted on August 16, 2018, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. This page has been viewed 75 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. submitted on August 16, 2018, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico.
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