The sugar mills were more than industrial centers. In almost all cases, they also included small communities with individual residences or barracks for the workers. In the largest mills, there were also stores, hospitals and schools. The owner and his family often lived intermittently in the main house. The management and professional staff, as well as administrators, chemists and engineers, with their respective families, lived permanently at the mill. Their houses were typically a single story, raised above ground, built of wood with roofs of corrugated, galvanized zinc. The porches were broad and were protected from insects by metal screens. These houses were located near the plaza or the industrial buildings and the access roads.
The mill was the principal structure and was typically large, up to four stories tall, with mezzanines and various rooms. They were built over steel or wood frames with a roof of corrugated, galvanized steel. The room for pressing cane, where the drivers delivered the sugar cane, was located in front of the batey, the area where the cane was unloaded by the growers. At the opposite end were the boiler and the storage area for the bagasse, the biomass waste of the crushed cane. This structure was generally wide and tall, generally only one story. A platform crane was used to move the heavy cane to the presses. The area for the boiler and the storage for the bagasse might be part of the room where the press was located or could be located in independent buildings. The boilers were so massive and tall that they filled almost all the space in one wing, except for the wide aisles that separated and surrounded them. The chimneys were attached to this room.
The building where the cane juice, called guarapo, was processed was sometimes even larger than the room for the press, but it was sometimes divided into four levels. The division was a function of the two processes being carried out: clarifying the juice and crystallizing or draining the sugar. Some of the machinery found in this area included the cooking pans, the receiving tanks for the juice, the mixers, the heaters, the clarifiers and the centrifuges. The arrangement of the machinery and the plumbing that carried the juice, syrup, water, and steam varied from one mill to another and from one era to another, as new technologies were disseminated and integrated.
The administrative offices generally were found in a single two-story structure located adjacent to the plaza. It was built of wood or masonry, depending on the era in which that particular mill was constructed. However, some mills broke this pattern and the offices were located in structures or parts of buildings that had originally had another function.
There also were other secondary structures that may or may not have been attached to the main complex, such as the laboratories, the workshops and the general warehouses. In the laboratories, the juice, sugar and cane were analyzed chemically to determine their grades of purity. In general, if the mill operated a train, there were mechanical workshops where spare parts were made for the machinery using drills, presses, and other equipment; or blacksmith workshops, where parts were made using thermal treatments. Finally, the general warehouses were independent structures of modest size that could be located anywhere around the periphery of the industrial area. There might be one or several warehouses and their use frequently changed, which makes it difficult to characterize them.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: State Office of Historic Conservation, La central azucarera en Puerto Rico (1898-1952), Volúmen I: Contexto histórico y tipología de sus elementos.
Other source: Zayas Rivera, Duhamel. El verdor y dulce de nuestra caña de azúcar, 2004.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 07, 2010.