Nestled in a small wooded area near Homosassa, the ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill are one of Florida’s most evocative historic settings. The picture was taken during the archaeological assessment of the mill works and equipment.
David Levy Yulee an outstanding historic figure
David Levy Yulee was one of Florida’s most outstanding historic figures. He was born June 12, 1810, on the West Indies island of St. Thomas. He came from a prosperous Jewish family, but as an adult changed his name and his religion, becoming a Presbyterian. His father showed great interest in the new territory called Florida. His father in 1817 had bought 36.000 acres near Micanopy, where he settled with his family.
When David was nine years old, his father sent him to a private school in Virginia and later to law school in St. Augustine. He married the daughter of a Kentucky governor.
Yulee first served as Florida’s territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, where he obtained a grant for a railroad survey of Florida. He also was an outspoken defender of slavery and promoted removal of Native Americans from Florida. Like many southerners, he was outraged at the presence of runaway slaves among the Seminole. In both Washington and Florida, Levy was an effective speaker in the movement for statehood.
He proposed state and federal sponsorship for a railroad from the Atlantic coast of Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. He intended to have this railroad run through his property. Construction of the Florida Railroad, the first in the state, began in 1855 at Fernandina on the east coast, and was completed at Cedar Key in Levy County in April of 1861.
When Florida entered the Union in 1845, the legislature elected Levy to the United States Senate. His influence was so extensive in Florida that in 1845 the state named Levy County in his honor. When the legislators were de viding Hernando County into Citrus, Hernando and Pasco County, they also changed Senator Levy’s name as well.
He became Senator Yulee by an act of the Florida legislature in 1845. A moderate pro-Union faction defeated him for re-election, but he regained his seat in the Senate in 1854, taking a less fierce attitude on southern rights. Yulee served until the secession crisis, when he resigned in order to serve the Confederacy.
Though a politician, Yulee stayed involved in agriculture. Yulee was said to have a large assortment of sweet oranges on his plantation. This variety is appropriately named the Homosassa Orange and is still considered a favorite fruit today.
In 1851, 69 workers built the Yulee sugar mill, using expensive machinery imported from New York. The operation employed some 100 slaves. The mill was in operation until 1864. For 13 years, it was a time of peace and prosperity for Yulee, until the Civil War drove him to a fateful decision. In 1861, he made the hard choice of serving in the newly created Congress of the Confederacy, but resisted the idea of using his rails to make connections that would better aid the war effort. The mill served as a supplier of sugar products for Southern troops, and his mansion became a stockpile for ammunition and supplies.
In May 1864. A Union naval force burned his home on Tiger Tail Island in the Homosassa River to the ground. The ruins of this mansion are shown in the above picture of 1920. Federal troops destroyed the plantation buildings during the Civil War, but the sugarhouse was spared, contrary to local reports. The sugarhouse was burned through the carelessness of cattlemen in June 1869. The mill, located inland, escaped damage, but never resumed operation after the war ended and eventually fell into ruin. The picture below was taken around 1920.
The ruins of Yulee’s sugar mill, including the old iron boiler, kettles, chimney, and mill machinery, still are preserved and they are included today in a state park. Yulee abandoned sugar production after the Civil War.
Yulee was briefly imprisoned in Georgia, accused of aiding the flight of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet. After a presidential order from Ulysses Grant, he was freed and resumed his railroad interests. He died in New York in 1886.
Hewn from native limestone. The mill has been partially restored. It currently consists of a large chimney with an extending structure about 40 feet long that houses the boiler. Beside the mill’s remains are parts of the grinding machinery.
First presented to the Citrus County Federation of Women’s Club in 1923, the 6-acre Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins site was deeded to the state in 1953. Since then the Florida Park Service has made several improvements to this small wooded area in Homosassa, Florida. With the most recent stabilization effort of the masonry in 2006 (picture above), using the original Lime and sand mortar mix proportions, the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park has become a true landmark of Old Homosassa.
Visitors can tour the ruins at their own pace with the help of a concrete path and interpretive plaques. The site also offers picnic facilities. With 10 days notice, a guided tour for groups of 10 or more can be arranged based on the availability of park personnel.