Sugar Chimneys of St Croix
They’re not as well known as their historic sugar mill cousins, which carry somewhat problematic iconic status in St Croix. In many ways, though, St Croix’s sugar chimney structures are more emblematic of my home island. Not necessarily in the best of ways either.
Towering Echoes of St Croix’s Colonial Past
The chimneys are a product of the transition from wind to steam power in St Croix’s colonial-era sugar plantations. As with the adoption of any new tech, though, the change was pricey. This helps to explain the relative scarcity of these giant obelisks.
More than 200 wind-powered sugar mills once dotted the STX landscape. The total number of sugar chimneys was closer to 20. Few of them have persisted as well as the sugar chimney in Grove Place.
From a base measuring 12-feet squared, the chimney soars 80 feet into the sky. Instead of acres of cane and a bustling sugar works, though, it now towers over the St Croix Mutual Homes.
A Legacy of Struggle
The community is tidy and well-kept, though you wouldn’t confuse it with any of the more exclusive housing enclaves on the island.
Residents here are largely working class, marginalized, or somewhere in-between. For many of them, modern times still echo the debt bondage days immediately following emancipation.
Sugar Chimneys Past and Present
Back then, sugar chimneys like this one symbolized the island’s wealthy class; their withering heights emblematic of the economic chasm between the have’s and the have not’s in St Croix.
In later years, smokestacks at the now decaying oil refinery carried on the legacy of inequity.
Today’s proverbial sugar chimneys are those that top cruise ships. STX is set to welcome an 80% year-over-year increase in port calls in 2023. More than 100,000 cruise passengers came ashore in St Croix 2022.
It seems the boon times never end for those who own the chimneys that tower over St Croix.
At what cost, though, to the environmental stability of the island?
At what long term sustainable benefit to the people of Saint Croix?