In 1821, Major Charles Wilhelm Bulow acquired 4,675 acres of wilderness bordering a tidal creek that would bear his name. Using slave labor, he cleared 2,200 acres and planted sugar cane, cotton, rice and indigo. Soon after the plantation was established, Major Bulow died and his son John took over operations. The plantation prospered until the outbreak of the Second Seminole War. After the war, the plantation was abandoned. In 1836, the Seminoles burned 'Bulowville' along with other plantations in the area. All that is left today are the coquina ruins of the sugar mill, several wells, a spring house and the crumbling foundation of the mansion. The cleared fields have been reclaimed by the forest, and the area looks much as it did when it belonged to the Seminoles.
On a sunny afternoon at the dedication ceremony in 1954, the world was introduced to Bulow Ruins State Historic Site. The prosperous plantation once located here focused on growing and producing sugar. Mr. Charles Wilhelm Bulow purchased this land in 1821 and immediately, through the use of slave labor, cleared 2,200 acres for the specific purpose of planting sugar cane. The mill he erected to manufacture the sugar cane into the finished sugar product was one of the largest built in the southern United States. When he died in 1823, his young son John Joachim Bulow took over his father's plantation. During his travels through Florida, John James Audubon visited the Bulow plantation, describing in his writings the hospitality shown by the young Bulow to his guests. The local Indian population, hired to supply meat to the plantation, also thought highly of Bulow. During the coming years, due to the unstable situation between the Indians and the military, a wedge was driven between Bulow and the Seminoles who burnt the plantation and mill on the morning of January 11, 1836. Today, visitors can walk through the ruins of this massive mill site and admire the work of the master stone masons and appreciate the rugged technology of the remaining stonework, which survived the fires that brought an end to an era.
This image captured the Bulow ruins before state ownership cleaned up the location and made it accessible to visitors. The eerie stone walls and towering trees call to visitors to step back in time and let the old buildings tell their story. Smell the history and hear the steam powered mill crushing cane into syrup or imagine the shouts of the overseer to the slaves carrying out the difficult and heat-intensive labor. This land, once cleared for agriculture, now stands tall with old growth timber and speaks of a time long gone, but never forgotten.
Throughout the centuries, time has brought many changes to this area. Life on the Bulow plantation has been recorded both in written and family accounts. Its rapid rise and destruction are well-documented, but little is known of the families whose lives were affected. Those families included not only the wealthy land owners of the times, but the enslaved workers forced to work on the plantation. Walkways lead the casual visitor through many sections of the park and signs interpret the powerful mill, the grand scope of the factory and the associated machinery that processed the cane into sugar. Along a short trail through what has since been reclaimed by the forest are the meager remains of the plantation's slave quarters. Time has nearly erased all signs of the slave's existence, lived out in tiny wooden houses with dirt floors. This plantation, as with many in the south, owed its success to the workers who manned the machines, not just the machinery and buildings.
A stone plaque mounted on the wall of the sugar mill, dated January 12, 1831, marked the hey day of this great operation. Sometime prior to the Florida Park Service taking ownership of the property, vandals removed the plaque as a trophy of the discovery they felt they had made. In 2008, out of respect for this lost item and following research on the plaque, a replica was fashioned based on the early watercolor postcard and placed in the same location. The mission of the Florida Park Service is to provide resource-based recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources. Although there are always those who seek to abuse items of cultural significance, the state of Florida seeks to protect and keep them safe. Visitors to this site can witness firsthand the preservation and conservation measures implemented to protect and interpret Bulow plantation so that future generations can continue to visit and learn about this important era in Florida's past.
The Old Beach Road, as it is called now, was the original road leading to and from the Bulow plantation. During the 1800s products produced at this site were shipped by wagons and boats to locations such as St. Augustine. The Kings Road was built to connect St. Augustine and other southern points like New Smyrna. Some sections of the original Kings Road are still visible today. The Old Beach Road, only one wagon wide, still serves as the plantation entrance bringing visitors from Old Kings Road into this beautiful state park. It is easy to imagine the rugged setting compared to modern day paved roads. Life back then, like the wagons transporting the sugar, molasses and rum, moved at a slower pace.