Especially on St. Croix, sugar mills are still a feature of the landscape, although many have been ruined over the past 50 years. To catch the wind they were built on the highest, and thus the most visible locations in the landscape.
Like chimneys in the early European industrial landscape, the citizens saw the sugar mills as symbols of growth, prosperity, investment and high profits. With its whirring blades it must have been a powerful building to see and approach. As ruins, sugar mills remind us more of church towers.
The wind-powered sugar mills are walled truncated cones with high, open arches, so that the inner workings of the heavy timber mill could reach into the middle of the building – and out again during repairs. The ramp up to the mill carried slaves and mules with their cargo of sugar cane for crushing; if unlucky an arm of an enslaved African was crushed too.
The sugar mill was built of coral stone, either in its natural form or in carefully squared blocks. Some windmills have a crypt beneath them, where strong brick arches and a central pillar support the structure.
Instead of a wind-driven sugar mill many plantations had a treadmill pulled by mules or bullocks. This is sometimes called an ‘animal mill’. An animal mill is a circular, horizontal structure with stone walls and a ramp like the sugar mill. As early as the middle of the 1700s the maps show plantations distinguished as having windmills and/or animal mills.