The Annaberg Sugar Mill is the most famous site on the entire island of St John. It was a state of the art sugar production factory built at the very end of the 1700’s. The National Parks Service has place placards around the site explaining the different buildings, but a little secret I will pass along is to stop at the NPS headquarters in Cruz Bay and get a pamphlet with tons more detail about the entire site.
What amazes me with this wonderful archeological and culture treasure is how guest from the cruise ships spend so much time and money getting from St Thomas to St John and hiring a taxi showing them around. They get to Annaberg and are excited, but they blast through the thing with barely enough time to get a few photos and skim the placards before they are back in the taxi and out of there. When I take guest there I walk them through the site and explain each of the points of interest as it is laid out in the NPS pamphlet.
The things everyone rushes to are the windmill (1st photo), which is where the sugar cane was crushed under heavy stones rotated by wind power and one of only five ever constructed on St John; the horsemill, it did the same thing as the windmill except with animals powering the rotation; and the boiling house (2nd photo), this is where the juice from the crushed cane began the process of becoming sugar. What everyone is missing is the other 13 points of interest telling the whole story of Annaberg. Some of these include the slave village, where over 65 simple mud huts graced the steep incline down to the water (one unusual feature was the slaves at Annaberg were required to grow their own food so they had more independence than slaves on other islands); the oven (1st and 2nd photo) used to bake bread and feed the slaves; the copper pots (3rd photo) in the boiling house where the juice was reduced and then transferred to the next pot and so on until it was at the right consistence to let it crystallize and dry out; the huge pit which is a 20,000 gallon cistern (water collection and holding); a dungeon tucked in a small out of the way corner; and everyone’s favorite – the rum distillery, turns out this was a byproduct of sugar production and made as a way of not wasting all the leftover garbage instead of today where it is the main product produced.
For me the most impressive item at Annaberg is not even manmade but the hillside (4th photo), where everything you see would have been terraced and growing sugar cane. It is quite amazing to comprehend and the photo does not give you the true scope, so why don’t you come on down for a visit and let me be your tour guide through this fantastic historical site. Once you leave I hope to have instilled in you a basic knowledge base on all the steps taken to produce sugar 200 years ago. If this is of interest to you then please share this post.