Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tabby Sugar Mill

Jean did a pretty exhaustive history of North Florida, yet unpublished, and one of the historical figures that interested her was John Houston McIntosh.  He was born here in what is now McIntosh Co., GA, in 1773, and settled in East Florida as a young man.  He was the first to try to get Florida annexed into the United States during the War of 1812, to wrestle it away from Spain.  When his plan was crushed by the Spanish government, he returned to Georgia to start sugar cane cultivation on two plantations.   His sugar mill is just a couple miles from Crooked River State Park, so we made a visit this morning.  It is reported to be the largest tabby structure in the Southeastern United States, if not the entire country, and employed the first horizontal cane mill in the country powered by cattle.

The mill is 75 by 120 feet, and was two storied.  The ground level was divided into three large sections, and the west end is the grinding room, with many small windows for ventilation.  The middle section held the four large vats in the boiling room.  Outside of its wall are large square columns that supported the two large porch roofs.  As you look at the front of the mill, the
porch on the left held fire wood needed to keep the boiling vats going, and the one on the right held the cistern to hold the substantial quantities of needed water.  Cattle were led onto ramps from low wide openings in the base of the walls, and led up to the second floor where they powered the mill. 

This is looking from the curing room, through the boiling room
and into the milling room.  It clearly shows where the wood
pins were used to hold the form boards in place, and you can
even make out the different pouring layers.

Cane juice flowed through a gutter from the milling room into the boiling room.  The first vat it went into was the clarifier, where sediment settled from the juice.  It then was transferred to the boiling vat and reduced to granulating syrup, and then poured into the third vat, the cooling vat.  Finally it was placed in hogsheads (barrels) and moved to the east room.  The partial walls built in that room helped to support the tremendous weight of the stored barrels.  After curing in the barrels, it was poured on a sloping floor where the molasses separated from the granules and both were captured separately.
The curing room had hip walls to divide the room into thirds
and bear the massive weight of the stored barrels.  Pockets for
floor joists and a center bearing beam can be seen in the walls.
There are a half-dozen square columns that supported the
porch roofs on either side of the boiling room.  One side for
wood storage, the other side (shown here) for the water cistern.
The milling room was on the second floor.   Cane was undoubtedly
moved in and out on the ground floor, cattle were brought in and
taken up ramps to the milling floor, and the numerous tall windows
allowed ventilation from what had to be dusty work.
The tabby wall.

As for tabby, it is a story that started about 1,200 years ago.  Timucuan, Guale, and Mocama Indians accumulated huge oyster shell mounds or middens over the centuries.  Many Florida roads were built using the shells for road base material.  The shell was mixed with equal quantities of sand, lime and water to make a mortar called tabby.  Boards were set horizontally along the top of the previous pour and held in place by wood pegs.  After the mortar was packed and hardened, the boards were moved up for the next pour, and about two layers could be done per week.  When finished, since the tabby was very porous, the entire building was covered with stucco to make it waterproof.

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