Sugar Mill Ruins, Saving The Hermit Crabs!

Reef Bay Travel Blog

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Reef Bay Sugar Mill

About 2 and a half miles from Centerline Road, we finally arrived at the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins.  At the end of the trail, it just opened up into a sunny yard with several well preserved buildings that were all that was left of the old mill.  Sugar plantations once covered the island of St John, but the nutrients in the ground were eventually depleted by years of sugarcane crops. Once slavery was outlawed, which increased labor costs, and the discovery that sugar could be extracted more cheaply from sugar beets on the mainland, led to the decline of the sugar industry on the island, and one by one the mills were abandoned.  This one had been the last functioning mill on the island, having been converted over to steam power.

Finding land crabs in an abandoned sugar mill at the end of the Reef Bay Trail in St John
  Previously, horses, mules or oxen were led in a circle, which turned the grinders that extracted the cane juice from the sugarcane.  This juice was boiled in copper vats, and eventually became sugar, molasses, or rum.  Since this was the last mill to close, it was still in pretty good shape, and you could see a lot of the old equipment still there. 

It was kind of cool, exploring this hundred year old abandoned factory, still in good enough shape to show how things worked back then.  It was also kind of cool that Tyler and I had the whole place to ourselves.  Apparently, most people who visit here do so in the morning, with the National Park tour that will bring them back by boat, to avoid the hike back up.  Possibly the July afternoon heat may keep folks away as well, but we found the heavily shaded trail to be a good 10-15 degrees cooler than it was in town or back at Cinnamon bay.

Tyler and I found some pretty big land crabs, in the abandoned Reef Bay sugar mill on the island of St John
  Not bad at all!  We weren't really bothered by bugs, either. 

In one of the rooms, we found three land crabs in a small trench, ranging in size from a tennis ball to the size of a softball.   We took some pictures and video of them, then soon realized, they were actually trapped in this trench, and had no way out!   They had probably just been wandering around this factory, looking for food, and stumbled in and had been unable to get out.  We helped them out by picking them up and putting them back outside, where they crawled away.  The room had some large, deep bowl-like depressions, which we learned was where they boiled the cane juice to make sugar.   The depressions were now filled with leaves, nuts, and some water.

We found some trapped land crabs that had fallen into a trench in the Reef Bay sugar mill on St John. We rescued them from starvation and put them back outside

In the next room, there wasn't much...except in the corner, there was a square hole, no more than a foot deep, and we could hear clicking noises coming from it.  We investigated, and... sure enough!  It was occupied by well over a dozen land crabs that had fallen in!!   The hole wasn't that big or deep, but the poor little guys had no way to get out.  Some of them may have been trapped here for days, or even weeks!  We quickly set about rescuing them as well.   Tyler climbed in the hole and started pulling them out, one by one...some of them had become entangled in some vine roots that were coming out of the hole and up the wall, and had to be worked free.  As he pulled them out, I carried them outside and released them onto a grove of aloe plants, where we had seen some other crabs and holes earlier.

We built a little wall around the depression, so that no more would fall in
  The poor little buggers must have been starving and dehydrated!   The good news was, there were only a couple of small dead ones, but we managed to save probably close to twenty live ones, all different sizes.   After we released them back into the wild, we went back in that room and used bricks, stones, and pieces of wood to make a barrier around the hole, so that no more could fall in and become trapped again.  I  found a plastic sign on the ground, that said "caution- bees!" ...  there were no bees in this room, but I put the sign up against the brick barrier we had created, in the hopes that it would dicourage anyone from disturbing our barrier to the hole!    Just doing our good deed for the day, while exploring the ruins!

WaltJake says:
Thanks, Keats, I'm glad you liked it! I still have a bit more to write about, when I find the time... great Island to visit! Plenty of places to get "off the beaten path"
Posted on: Jan 15, 2009
keatsdad says:
Wow, that was an awesome blog, I read every bit and it sounds great. I was looking for a place in the caribbean to go, and this sounds perfect. Good stuff. Thanks!
Posted on: Jan 15, 2009
WaltJake says:
Thanks Vance! we did... and I thank you, because we probably wouldn't have explored this cool trail if it hadn't been for your recommendation!
Posted on: Dec 14, 2008
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Reef Bay Sugar Mill
Reef Bay Sugar Mill
Finding land crabs in an abandone…
Tyler and I found some pretty big…
We found some trapped land crabs …
We built a little wall around the …
We built a little wall around the…
The trail split here, we continued…
The trail split here, we continue…
Reef Bay Sugar Mill
Reef Bay Sugar Mill
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
The rum still converted molasses i…
The rum still converted molasses …
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
A deer came out to say hello!
A deer came out to say hello!
Back of the main building
Back of the main building
boiling room
boiling room
Ty walks around the grounds
Ty walks around the grounds
several of the rooms had depressio…
several of the rooms had depressi…
sugar boiling room
sugar boiling room
Tyler discovers some crabs in the …
Tyler discovers some crabs in the…
The island growth has taken over s…
The island growth has taken over …
We rescued a bunch of land crabs t…
We rescued a bunch of land crabs …
Outside the sugar mill
Outside the sugar mill
The sugar cane crusher was once lo…
The sugar cane crusher was once l…
Chimney, for the smoke from the bo…
Chimney, for the smoke from the b…
You can see a few crabs in the cor…
You can see a few crabs in the co…
Tyler saves them
Tyler saves them
...and puts them back outside
...and puts them back outside
Plenty of interpretive signs aroun…
Plenty of interpretive signs arou…
Outside the sugar mill
Outside the sugar mill
there was a picnic table in this r…
there was a picnic table in this …
We blocked of the hole to keep cra…
We blocked of the hole to keep cr…
... that should keep the little cr…
... that should keep the little c…
sugar boiling room
sugar boiling room
old gear wheels
old gear wheels
well out back
well out back
hope no crabs fell in there!
hope no crabs fell in there!
out back
out back
steam boilers room
steam boilers room
boiler room
boiler room
this is where the grinding wheel  …
this is where the grinding wheel …
The beach is that way!
The beach is that way!
One of our rescued crabs goes back…
One of our rescued crabs goes bac…
Not sure whats in there!
Not sure what's in there!
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins
Reef Bay
photo by: WaltJake