Down by the old mill stream

By Phillip M. Pollock

In the proudest of Florida gastronomic traditions, more than 50 field crew members in 1996 on more than one occasion celebrated a breakfast at Nutall Rise main camp consisting of delicious pancakes made from a batter mix of Old Sugar Mill's finest stone ground grains (generously donated by Patty Schwarze).

An old sugar mill is nestled alongside DeLeon Springs in western Volusia County. Although the spring has been spilling millions of gallons of water into Spring Garden Creek for as long as anyone can remember, the mill wheel itself, once powered by the water's immense force, is now silent. A gray and cracked matrix of spokes and paddles rests motionless.

Now a family of sixth-generation gristmillers own the mill -- it is a restaurant whose specialty is pancakes that you can grill yourself on griddles in the center of rectangular tables. Guests ladle out batter made of grain that is stone-ground on the site and then let their senses direct when the meal is ready.

The atmosphere at the mill is rustic. Inside, old tin syrup containers, wooden tools and grinding apparatus displayed along the walls add visual flavor to meals. Outside, beyond the wooden frame of the mill, ruddy-colored brick is still visible from more prosperous milling days.

Stone tool and pottery remains indicate that as far back as 6,500 years ago, humans found the area a desirable location for many activities. Further evidence of occupation does not appear until the late 1700s when historical accounts reflect Creek and Seminole Indian settlement. By 1832, the spring was part of a large sugar cane plantation owned by Colonel Orlando Rees.

With the assistance of a Scottish engineer, Rees built a mill along the spring's outflow to extract sugar from the large cane stalks. Four years later, the mill was destroyed during the Second Seminole War. A wealthy slaveholder, Thomas Starke, later traded fifty slaves for the property rights to the mill site and rebuilt it in 1840. Starke utilized the mill through the start of the Civil War, then aided the Confederacy and became a target for retaliation by Union forces -- the mill was disabled in the latter period of the war.

Most of the wooden structure of the mill that exists today dates to 1878; however, only the metal hub for the wooden wheel remains from the original mill construction in 1832. Inviting smells of country cooking that drift outside remind visitors that both the mill and springs possess a unique, shared history.

This article from Florida Heritage magazine reprinted courtesy of Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources.