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St. Catherine’s Province
Spanish Town, Jamaica
Thursday, February 2, 2012

Awakening in Jamaica was like saying good morning to paradise. The sky was beautiful blue like the waters below, with white cumulus clouds over the Blue Mountains and the fertile green valleys of this unmistakably Caribbean island.

As the red dawn emerged, I headed to the small airport, and commuter doorway in Montego Bay to take the last seat on the prop plane bound for Kingston. With several dips and turns with the wind, the plane lifted its wings toward an adventure to find the historic Bernard Lodge Sugar Factory in St. Catherine’s Province near Kingston, amidst the tall, waving Jamaican sugar cane fields, and, thus, to find the remains of the Lakeside, Texas Sugar Refinery.

After only thirty minutes time, with endless views from both sides of the island, the flaps came down, and the plane descended to its small terminal across from the Kingston shipyard/industrial port, where undoubtedly the ship from Galveston in 1918 bearing the materials dismantled from the Lakeside Sugar Refinery would have arrived. I wondered what engineer Maurice Miller must have felt as he arrived from the Texas prairie to this new shore with crystal seas and fertile valleys, to begin his work on the construction of a new sugar mill from the valuable Lakeside
cargo in his care.

The driver and I began our short journey along the port, passing industrial buildings and shipyards, to the nearby cane fields in the countryside. As we turned onto a smaller road, only twenty minutes away, I saw in the distance to the left, the top of a large, wide, red brick chimney. I recognized it at once to be the smokestack of the old Bernard Lodge Sugar Mill, which I had come to know in photographs recently discovered. As we drove, sugar cane fields appeared on both sides of the road, some already in the burning process for harvest, with billowing smoke curling in the foreground of the distant green hills near Spanish Town, once the Jamaican capital.

Turning into a modest entrance, we passed through an open iron gate with a sign reading “Bernard Lodge Sugar Factory.” Several simple plantings of red bougainvilleas stood at the entrance. Down the road a short distance, there it was. The old sugar factory stood proudly, with its large smoke stacks and enormous tin buildings, many pieces of which were tinged with rust, reflecting their bold century of service.

Several cars and a woodframe administrative building appeared to the left near the entrance. Various employee houses and other office buildings stood nearer the mill, all painted the same sun-faded yellow-gold color. There were several tractors, trailers, and trucks scattered about, with the unmistakable tall, green cane fields growing alongside. In large, stacked mounds on the ground were white and yellow bags of cane fertilizer with writing in black Chinese letters, perhaps symbolic of the recent purchase of the last three large Jamaican sugar mills by the Chinese, including Bernard Lodge.

Approaching a small security check point and gate, there was an area filled with bicycles, the transportation of many of the cane field workers. A woman at the checkpoint brought out a sign-in sheet for name, time, and business, which I dutifully signed. I was then escorted to see the manager of personnel who, after hearing the story of the Lakeside Refinery and its rebirth in Jamaica, allowed me, accompanied by a former mill worker, now security guard, to walk through the aging refinery, with its enormous ceilings, turbines, and machinery.

As I looked high above at the tall ceilings, sunlight streamed in through the cracks and open windows. Seeing the enormous iron framework of the buildings from the inside, I remembered the old photographs of Lakeside Refinery in its early construction stages, with its large metal frames, scaffolding, and smokestacks. It was as if to see the old sugar refinery as it first took life in 1901 in Texas.

There were the boilers, the old turbines, the aging brick furnaces, the heavy, now rusting, cane crushers, the large pumps and engines, metal catwalks, large boiling kettles, enormous crown pinions, rollers and sugar melting tanks, chains for moving the cane, tons of heavy milling and refining equipment, and occasional safety signs.

While its tall chimneys have swirled smoke since 1919 in Jamaica, Bernard Lodge may be seeing its final era as a working mill. It is apparent that some of its parts and heavy machinery are already being dismantled for transfer to other facilities, as parts and equipment or possible scrap metal. The Chinese have pledged to spend $180 million in improvements and modernization of their recently acquired Jamaican mills.

While its future may be uncertain, the old Lakeside Refinery, now Bernard Lodge Sugar Factory, has had a rich and colorful past for over a century, from the river bottoms of Texas to the fertile cane fields of the Jamaican countryside.

By Sandra C. Thomas

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