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Orlando Rees Sugar Mill
De Leon Springs

   
According to printed information by the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks, the first Spanish to arrive here were friars in the 1590s.  During the time the British occupied Florida (1763-1783), in 1779 the British firm of Panton, Leslie & Co. which specialized in the Indian Trade, received a 500 acre land grant which included De Leon Springs.  In 1804, when Florida was under the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821) and after Panton, Leslie & Co. had left the area, William Williams received a land grant from the Spanish Government and named the land received Spring Garden, he was the first one to raise corn and cotton here.

In 1823 Major Joseph Woodruff, a planter from South Carolina, bought 2,020 acres from Williams for $3,000, Woodruff owned the property until his death in 1828 while returning from a trip to New York to purchase sugar making equipment.

In 1830 Colonel Orlando Rees acquired the property from the Woodruff family.  With 90 slaves, Col. Rees constructed the only water-powered sugar mill in Florida.  In 1836 during the Second Seminole War , the Seminoles attacked the Rees plantation killing a nephew of Joseph Woodruff and destroying the mill and buildings and stealing slaves and cattle.  The indians held the plantation lands for two years until expelled by the US Army when Joseph Woodruff, nephew of Major Joseph Woodruff, led a militia force against the Seminoles forcing them from the area.  

In 1849 Thomas Starke bought the Rees Plantation, he rebuilt and enlarged the sugar mill and added a cotton gin.  In the 1850s his son, John Starke converted the sugar mill to a grist mill still powered by water.  During the Civil War, in April 1864, Union troops under the command of Gen. William Birney destroyed the plantation and the sugar mill.  In 1872 Maj. George Norris of Batavia, NY bought the property and rebuilt the sugar mill.  In the 1880s the railroad reached the area and to attract tourists, Norris operated a steamboat to bring passenfers from the St. Johns River and built a small tourist attraction renaming it De Leon Springs.  In 1982 the State of Florida acquired the property converting it to a State Park.

The water wheel and building remain on the site to this day.  In the early 1900s, a replica of the original mill building was constructed on the foundation of the original 1830s mill.  This building now houses a pancake restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.  The large chimney still standing dates back to the mid-1800s.  The remains of the plantation era sugar-making operation consist of brickwork from the Spanish Train's boiling kettles, mill machinery and kettles and the original mill wheel hub.