It’s the country’s first archaeological and historical park and its opening today culminated years of efforts to save the site. The Serpon Sugar Mill in Sittee River down south was the start of the industry that now flourishes in the north of the country. The mill was declared a reserve several years ago and developing it into an attraction has had its up and downs. News Five’s Delahnie Bain took the journey to Sittee River for this morning’s grand opening.
Delahnie Bain Reporting
“The face of the sugar industry has change dramatically over time. But almost a 150 years ago, it started here, at the Serpon Sugar Mill. And today, after years of work, the Serpon Sugar Mill Archaeological Reserve officially opened; the first in the Stann Creek District.”
The opening ceremonies featured addresses from NICH President, Diane Haylock, Director of the Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe and Ministers Manuel Heredia and Melvin Hulse. But the main event was the signing of the documents and ribbon cutting to officially open the national park.
In 1863, when the sugar mill was used by Mayan and Mestizo refugees, converting cane to sugar was a much more tedious task. On a tour of the park, Awe explained the uses of the different machineries. Those included a 3-wheel main crusher, still on its original foundation; the boilers that created the steam needed to power the equipment and the beam engine, which dates back to the 1940’s. There was an evaporating furnace measuring 75 feet in length, a hot air exchanger, which was used as an exhaust for heat travelling the length of the furnace, the locomotive that was used to run sugar around the mill and the tredegar engine, which pumped water from the river.
But the restoration of the park was no easy task and the Institute of Archaeology and NICH faced several challenges for over a decade to bring the site to life. One of their obstacles was financing.
Dr. Jaime Awe, Director, Institute of Archaeology
“We applied previously to the U.S. government for some funds for other parks. And so we said it’s a long shot, let’s try it. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t we’ll keep looking. But it came through and so when we got the money, we went to NICH, our mother institution, and said look we got some funds; this is not gonna be enough. So the Directors of NICH, the President of NICH realized that yes, what we’re doing is worthwhile and so they threw in their support.”
J.A. Diffily, Charge D’ Affairs, United States Embassy
“The restoration was made possible through US$55,000 grant provided by the U.S. Government through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. On October 23rd, 2007—I guess that’s just 18 months ago, we signed an agreement with Dr. Awe at a ceremony held at the U.S. Embassy, which began what you see here; the first Archaeological Historical Park in the Stann Creek District.”
While the majority of the machinery is still in place, according to Awe, not all of it was salvaged.
Dr. Jaime Awe
“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 we think that a lot of the machinery is still here and it certainly makes a visit to this park worth your while. In some cases you will see how parts of the metal have been completely covered by tree roots or trees are growing through parts of them. I think it’s important because it sends the message that nature always wins.”
The opening of the reserve is a milestone for NICH and the Institute of Archaeology but for William Bowman, great grandson of Thomas Bowman, who once owned Serpon, it has sentimental value.
William Bowman, Great Grandson, Serpon Sugar Mill Operator
“It’s very touching and I can feel something for what is happening here. What goes through my mind is I’m walking where he must have walked 130 years ago or so and I wonder what he was doing then. But it had to have been impressive, because to have able to accomplish all this, how he did it is remarkable.”
Efforts to restore the sugar mill date back over a decade.