Old Belize mill is first site that is not a Maya ruin to be declared an archaeological site

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Hidden in the jungle one mile in on the access road to the village of Sittee River is an important landmark in Belize’s colonial history. It is the remnants of the steam powered Serpon Sugar Mill which was established in 1865 and marked the start of Belize’s industrial era. The mill was bought by William Bowman and it, along with the Regalia, bought and owned by an American, fueled Belize’s economy for about thirty years.

Estimates are that at its peak, the Serpon Sugar Mill was producing and shipping 1,700 pounds of sugar a month. In the late 19th century, Serpon was a technological marvel with its main crusher, boiler, beam engine, furnace, and hot air exchanger – all powered by steam. That was a breakthrough when compared to the manual process used previously by the Mestizos and Mayans.

But at the turn of the 20th century, sugar production became more profitable in the northern districts and by 1910 the Serpon Sugar Mill was abandoned. Citrus magnate Mike Dunker bought the property that Serpon sits on, and in 1989 he was ready to bulldoze it to plant citrus. That is when residents of Sittee River began the process of not just preserving the mill but also its history.

Along with the Institute of Archaeology, Sittee River villagers began a process that took fifteen years to complete. A major problem was funding which was solved when they were awarded a US$55,000 grant from the U.S. Ambassador’s fund in 2007. But while the money was one thing, salvaging what was left was another. The boilers, furnaces, and the locomotive were now rusty artifacts. Director of the Institute of Archaeology Dr. Jaime Awe notes that, "a fair bit of the metals that were here were taken out, especially like rails because the locomotive behind me used to run on a rail system. Most of those "train tracks" as we call them in Belize, we lost them."

But those that were saved now form part of the Stann Creek district’s first Archaeological Reserve. It was made official on Thursday May 7 by Minister of Tourism and Culture Manuel Heredia Jr.

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