The ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill are right around the corner from Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. You don’t have to look hard to find them; they are right by the side of State Road 490. You could hit them if your eye wandered or if you were momentarily blinded by the dazzling Florida sunlight, and you would not be able to sue the State of Florida for your lack of attention or for your failure to wear proper polarized eyewear.
The ruins have the right of way by virtue of being bigger, sturdier, and older than your car.
The mill was owned by David Levy Yulee, who had been a Congressional delegate when Florida was still a territory and not yet a state. He was an early political mover and shaker, apparently inheriting drive from his father, who had purchased 50,000 acres of land near Jacksonville with the intention of establishing a “New Jerusalem” for Jewish settlers.
In 1851, Yulee built his sugar plantation next to the Homossassa River. The plantation supplied sugar and sugar products to the Confederacy. Following the war, Yulee was jailed for this allegiance. A century and a half later, Yulee was named a Great Floridian 2000 by the Florida Department of State.
State Road 490 cuts through the old plantation, which on the day we visited was bathed in a diffused golden glow from the late-spring sunlight. We parked in the small lot and walked across the street to look at the chimney, iron gears, and cane press. They are a reminder of the role Florida played in the Civil War. While the state didn’t see as much military action as other places in the South, it was known as “the supplier to the Confederacy.” Besides sugar, Florida sent out meat, fish, fruit, and salt in support of the Confederate military machine.
Economic and political significance aside, the most interesting thing about the sugar mill is the enterprise of its owner, who made the most of his tenure in Florida. Reading about Mr. Yulee made me feel like a serious Florida underachiever. In addition to the mill and to his political career, David Levy Yulee conceived and built the Florida Railroad, which ran from Amelia Island to Cedar Key. Consider this the Florida Superhighway, a century before all roads led to Disney. To finance the railroad, he used federal grants, becoming the first Southerner to do so. The ruins seem a monument to ambition as much as they do a relic of a dark time in the history of equal rights. You can ponder both for free before heading for the wildlife park, which exhibits the mid-century ambition of Florida’s burgeoning tourism industry. You can also bring a pimento cheese sandwich to the picnic pavilion across the street and consider how it is that within the span of a century, the state went from being the “supplier of the Confederacy” to being the supplier of cartoon fantasy.