Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens

Originally posted April 14, 2015

The plantation, originally founded by an immigrant from the Bahamas, named Patrick Dean, received a 995 acre federal land grant to produce cotton and sugar, but production was interrupted by the War of 1812. Dean died violently, probably at the hands of Indians.

New ownership by two families – the Dunn and the Lawton families – the name was shortened to The Dunlawton Sugar Mill back in the very early part of the 19th Century – in the 1830s. It was a going concern producing raw sugar from cane until it was burned down during the Second Indian War back in 1836 but wasn’t rebuilt until 1840. Since that time, the old sugar mill has had several owners, business entities and several purposes.

The Main Entrance, across the street from a small parking lot.
Today, it is as you will see it here — just a lovely place to visit and not to be missed if you’re or around Port Orange, Florida. Another advantage is that it won’t cost you a dime, unless you really want to donate to the maintenance, upkeep and for new plantings. I did so because I wanted to enjoy it more.

The scene right inside the main gate. You can see why I chose it for my story header
I almost didn’t come here at all. After all, it was only a short drive from the campground. I’d heard of the concrete dinosaurs and the fact that it was “in ruins”, but I really didn’t get the full story from the locals that I talked with. Mind you, they weren’t trying to “sell it” as a tourist attraction because there could be no financial benefit for them. Its sad when business gets in the way of real-life enjoyment of historical places. As luck, or good planning would have it, I picked an absolute glorious afternoon to go there.

Just one of several places to stop, listen to birds and breezes throughout these lush gardens.
The sun was high and temperatures fair and in the low 70s, while humidity was typically normal for Florida. The few clouds very thin and high in the sky – perfect for shooting pictures under canopy of tall trees, I thought. My first impression was that nobody could have planned this better as a botanical garden, but that just wasn’t the truth. It had several other purposes in the history of the property including even an attempt at private zoo, theme park and today a public park because the city didn’t know what else to do with it. Today, private individuals and botanical groups maintain and preserve the park.

This seemed a bit Oriental in nature, but it still fit-in with the moss and ferns.
I couldn’t stop taking photos. Everywhere I turned was yet another photo opportunity. There were attractive groups of plantings – some with decorative concrete elements, flower groupings, a reflective pond and other places that I’ll show you. In short order, I took over 175 digital image frames. I have to say that editing for this blog was quite a challenge. How does one select only a few among so many scenes of such a picturesque place?

A peaceful respite near a quaint bridge over the pond. Running water always creates a calming effect on the human spirit.
As I was later to discover, many of the scenes presented were essentially suggested to the various botanical groups by (whodathunkit?) photographers. That’s right. Among the former uses for the park, you can also add Weddings and Wedding Receptions to your list. Such a “photo park” on such a grand scale would be awesome to shoot with just such a purpose. It wouldn’t be dynamic or dramatic enough for say, high school seniors, but for weddings it would be grand idea.

There is no single trail to enjoy these gardens.
There is no right-way or wrong-way to immerse yourself in this lovely place. Take one trail or the other, the see what you can see. Your sense of curiosity with propel you always forward, to the left or right or even back the way you came if you want to change your perspective. The Gardens are equally appealing any way you want to see it. By the way, what time was it getting to be? I’d better check my watch – but then, I don’t wear one any more. Conveniently … in the garden …

Just in-time. I was worried I'd get lost and stuck after closing time.
So I’m diddy-bopping along the sandy trail, taking photos, leaving only footprints and minding my own business when … “What the …? Is that a freakin’ dinosaur? Why, yes! Yes it is.

Back in Pre-historic days of the 1950s, came a theme park known as "Bongoland".
On a little sign, down another trail is the reason for this and other large, concrete dinosaurs to be found elsewhere in the Gardens. During the 1950s, the old Sugar Mill became a theme park called, … wait for it … “Bongoland”.

That’s right, kiddies. Come to Bongoland and see Bongo the baboon and all his little friends, ride the train through the Indian village and see the dinosaurs. However, this forward thinking idea went unrewarded as the days of the Theme Park had not yet come and the park was closed due to lack of interest. Sad, really. I guess we had to wait until Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California first.

Dearly beloved, you can watch the ceremony from nature's garden church. (Bring DEET!)
There are various trellis and concrete seating arrangements, thoughtfully landscaped and scattered throughout the park. As previously mentioned, a large contributing factor to the maintenance of the Gardens are wedding ceremonies – every type one can imagine – even Wicca ‘n, I understand.

The Confederate Oak. (rear view)
The Confederate Oak. What else can one say, but .. its a huge old tree.

The Confederate Oak (front view)
As you can imagine, with such a long and varied history, I came across this almost ancient looking tree called The Confederate Oak. It’s species is Live Oak – as opposed to the regular oak trees or the dead ones that nobody talks about, I guess. The Gardens are full of them – as was Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia. Of course, Spanish Moss in this climate is a foregone conclusion. Anyway, this tree is called the Confederate Oak because legend has it that Confederate soldiers frequently camped under it. As we all may remember from our history classes, when the “Army of Northern Aggression” marched on the state of Florida, the Confederates surrendered without a fight.

The Human Sundial. Where your shadow lands, it the correct time.
Sure enough – as verified by the time on my cell phone – its actually two minutes before 3 o’clock PM. on the Human Sundial. Amazing. The sun is always right.

This nearly brings us full circle around the grounds – from left to the back to the right. Again, I wanted to know the time and sure enough, right outside the old Sugar Mill was this Human Sundial. I had to check it out. You stand between the stones marking the month of the year and your shadow is cast at the correct time. Sure enough!

The remaining foundation of the original sugar mill buildings - burned in a skirmish with Indians.
Finally, we get to the old sugar mill – or what’s left of it. “It wuz Eengins, whut dun it.” I guess that’s how to spell gen-u-wine frontier gibberish. LOL  It was partially rebuilt in the 1840s and operated.

The sugar cane is squeezed and the liquid is boiled down in these over an open flame.
I can’t imagine working here under the hot Florida sun and the heat of the fires beneath these cauldrons boiling sugar cane syrup into granulated form.

The Gardens are now owned by Volusia County (formerly Mosquito County – with good reason), Florida, but the gardens are maintained by volunteers. To preserve what remains, a shelter-roof has been erected.

This big wheel turns the pressing mechanism, squeezing all the moisture out of the raw sugar cane.
And the big wheel keeps on turning while the boiling fires keep on burning. I’m glad sugar comes in five-pound bags, these days.

These giant gears turned the presses that extracted the sugar cane syrup before it could be boiled and reduced to near powdered form. Archaeologists reconstructed the equipment supports using pressure-treated lumber. I don’t believe it is operational, but essentially how it would have looked.

Well, that’s about it. There are lots more photos and scenes about this place. I could have easily spent an entire day there just finding new ways to view the surroundings and experience what resident memories there may be there. I did what I had set out to do. I got some nice images, learned a little something about making sugar, how hard it was to make a business grow when the “neighbors” didn’t want you there and how a group of volunteers can make such a lovely garden place out of the varied past that started out to be a plantation.

Happy trails. Thanks for dropping-by.

C-ya next time.


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