Nestled in a small wooded area near Homosassa, the ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill are one of Florida's most evocative historic settings.

More than 100 years ago, there stood here a thriving sugar plantation built by a man of peace who later found himself in the middle of America's bloodiest war.

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida's most outstanding historic figures, was born June 12, 1810, on the West Indies island of St. Thomas. A merchant and contractor, Yulee's father was a prosperous man who developed an enduring interest in the new territory called Florida. In 1817 he bought 36,000 acres near Micanopy and settled with his family there.

When David was nine, his father sent him to a private school in Virginia. and later to law school in St. Augustine. An intelligent and personable man, Yulee became a member of Florida's first constitutional convention in 1838-39, and in 1841, was elected as a territorial delegate to the Congress. When Florida became a state in 1845, he was chosen as its first U.S. senator.

He married the daughter of a Kentucky governor and moved to his 5,100-acre plantation called Margarita near the Homosassa River. Though a politician, he stayed involved in agriculture and built some of Florida's first railroads. His Atlantic and Gulf Railroad completed in 1860, connected Fernandina on the Atlantic coast to Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast.

By 1851, Yulee's sugar mill had 1,000 workers and used expensive machinery imported from New York. For 10 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 to the ground. The mill, located inland, escaped damage, but never resumed operation after the war ended and eventually fell into ruin. 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.

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.

For more information, contact Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Historic Site, c/o Crystal River State Archaeological Site, 3400 N. Museum Point, Crystal River, FL 34428 Tel:(352) 795-3817, or send an e-mail to the Park Manager

Source: Friends of Crystal River State Parks

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