Windmill Access Ramps: How sugar cane entered the mill

Access to the main entrance of the windmill was approached in different ways. While the mill was operating, people needed to access the mill along with sugar cane. The cane may have been delivered in bundles or in carts. In many locations, the entrance was flush with the ground west of the mill. When the mill foundation elevated the work floor above the grade, a stairway or some sort of earthen, wooden, or masonry ramp needed to be built. In relatively flat areas mill work floors were built up to allow the juice to flow down to the boiling house and also elevating the mill height to better catch breezes.

Entrances flush with the ground are common among windmills, especially those on hillsides, such as Bodkin (NA), Cane Bay (NB), and Hard Labor (PQ). Even in flatter areas where many mills were built with a foundation to elevate the work floor, some mills were built with work floors flush with the ground, such as at Clifton Hill (QQ), Castle Coakley (QQ), and Concordia (QQ). At Castle Coakley, significant earthwork and masonry was completed, quite likely after the older, northern mill was built.

Windmills at Bodkin, Cane Bay, and Hard Labor with the working floor at ground level of the entrance. For these three mills, the boiling house was downhill a short or long distance.

Concordia windmill Windmills at Castle Coakley, Clifton Hill, and Concordia (QQ), also with the main entrance at ground level.

In some cases, mills were built with work floors nearly flush with the surrounding grade, but only one step up. Examples of this are at Diamond (QQ), Judith’s Fancy (NB), Little Princess (CQ), and Paradise and Downing (PQ).

One windmill certainly had a ramp and was later modified, obviating the need for a ramp. River (PQ) had the working floor lowered to ground level and was apparently put back into operation. In this case, a ramp would no longer be needed. Material removal around the main entrance has made it difficult to see evidence of a ramp.

Stairways may or may not have been used to access windmills they were crushing sugar cane. In the St. Croix windmills that currently have stairways have modern updates. The use of stairways is reinforced by an illustration of the access to a mill using a stairway on Antigua. In this drawing, 4 stairs are depicted, with a woman carrying a bundle of cane to the mill.

with this highlight Highlight of print showing stairs leading to main entrance and worker loading cane into mill

Windmills on St. Croix with stairs leading up to them generally have been modified in modern times, leading to the question if they had stairs when sugar cane was being processed. For instance, the windmills at Annaly (NA), Prospect Hill/Bulter’s Bay, Rust op Twist (NB), and Shoys (EA) are currently accessed using stairs.

Earthen ramps were also common among windmills. Examples of these include Montpellier-Dolby Hill (QQ) and Nicholas (NA). Earthen ramps at these mills accessed the mill with a work floor that was not built significantly higher than the surrounding grade.

Montpellier Dolby Hill windmill

Wooden ramps can be inferred in several locations. Masonry ramp supports that appear to have accommodated wooden ramps can be seen at Carlton (WE), Diamond (PQ), Anguilla (PQ), and Annas Hope (CQ). At Boetzberg (EA), the mill’s working floor is more than 4 feet above grade with no sign of a masonry ramp or stairway.

Boetzberg windmill from the west showing the main entrance and two windows above it. Boetzberg (EA) mill is built on a foundation about 4 feet high.

Mills with simple, straight ramps include Campo Rico (WE), Orange Grove (WE), and Negro Bay (PQ). Given the degradation of these structures, the shapes of the ramps are inferred by what remains.

Campo Rico windmill Orange Grove - West End windmill Windmills at Campo Rico and Orange Grove (WE)

Masonry ramps would also be used, which became more sophisticated in later mills and sometimes incorporated storage space. Oxholm’s windmill schematic suggests a masonry ramp that narrowed as it reached the mill. This would enable carts to more easily approach the entrance and then turn around.

Oxholm diagram of sugar crushing windmill as seen from the side and above The Oxholm schematic shows a ramp in the view from above, the lower drawing, and a ramp is inferred in the top drawing. Note the structure going off to the right is the juice trough.

Windmills have the broadening ramp depicted in Oxholm’s schematic. For example, the ramp at The Whim (WE) has this type of ramp.

The Whim windmill

Some ramps to windmill entrances incorporated storage spaces under the ramp. Examples include Big Fountain (NA), Hermitage (PQ), Little La Grange (WE), and Wills Bay (NA).

Big Fountain windmill The windmill at Big Fountain has a storage structure built just outside the mill.

More sophisticated masonry used to create an entrance was a ramp went over a tunnel through which carts carrying bagasse traveled. Examples of ramps over tunnels include Barren Spot (QQ), both mills at Castle Coakley (QQ), Concordia (QQ), Rose Hill (NA), Salt River (EB), and Work and Rest (QQ).

South mill at Castle Coakley and the bagasse cart access tunnel Access structures at Barren Spot and Castle Coakley

At windmills incorporating basements, typically a T-ramp accessed the main entrance. Viewed from above, the windmill was connected to ramp work which looked like a “T.” The top bar of the “T” was a pair of ramps going from the ground and rising up to nearly the floor level of the mill.  The vertical bar of the “T” went straight into the working floor of the mill and was above an opening which went into the basement of the mill.

The windmills at Diamond-Keturah (CQ), Enfield Green (PQ), Hope and Carlton Land (WE), The Sight (EA), and Two Brothers (WE) are examples of the T-ramp. In this construction, the ramp created access to the main entrance in which a cart could go up one part of the ramp and leave from the other. The ramp would have segregated traffic going to the bagasse openings that would have approached from the ground level.

Access to the windmills to bring in sugar cane to be crushed was very important. The different approaches used to create this access reveals changes in technology and practices. Some of this was influenced by the location of the windmill. For windmills on hilltops that did not require additional elevation could be accessed from ground level. When the work floor was elevated above ground level, stairways or ramps took on a variety of shapes.