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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cunningham's Grit (Final Installment)

For the past couple of weeks I've posted excerpts from a 1888 newspaper article about Colonel Edward H. Cunningham's application of advanced technology (diffusion processing) in his Sugar Land refinery.  The article appeared in the Fort Worth Daily Gazette.  Click here to view the entire article.  

An undated photo of Col. Edward H. Cunningham
As explained in the previous posts, the article describes Cunningham, Sugar Land, and the wide-spread attention his venture attracted in the sugar industry.  I wanted to close this series with the article's description of the milling and refining process as it was performed in Sugar Land in 1888.

The article described the old crushing process, which Cunningham was still using at the Imperial Mill.  Regular readers will remember it was located on the banks of Oyster Creek a little over a mile west of Sugar Land.  The site is across from Constellation Field.  It also describes the new diffusion process he installed in his bigger mill next to the refinery, which later became the Imperial refinery we all knew until it closed in 2003.

Cunningham mixed the liquid sugar from both mills and purified it in his refinery.  You'll notice the article doesn't mention a char house.  I assume the end product wasn't white table sugar as we know it, but more like Demerara sugar.  I think Cunningham added the first Char House in 1893, which would have allowed him to produce the white table sugar we consume today.  Here is the article.

The Process - Part 1.

The Process - Part 2.

The Process - Part 3.

The first paragraph mentions 'squads of men.'  They are the leased convict labor, who worked the cane fields around Sugar Land.  You see below several photographs of this operation taken roughly 10 to 15 years later, but it hadn't changed much in the intervening years.

A convict labor crew beside a mule train loaded with cut sugar cane.  These cars ran on flexible, movable track which could be relocated around the fields to facilitate loading.
A convict labor crew unloading a rail car filled with cut sugar cane.  The Imperial Mill is out of view.
The Imperial Mill is in the background.  The camera is facing east toward Sugar Land, which is behind the mill.  Constellation Field is now located on land out of view on the left.
A convict labor crew working a cane field in 1900.
A 1923 aerial showing what we think is old convict housing in Mayfield Park.  The U-shaped building on the east side of the quarters is probably a commissary and guards quarters.

The newspaper article mentioned bagesse, which are the remains of cane stalks after they've yielded their sucrose.  Most mills and refineries used bagesse as fuel, so industry experts were curious about the condition of this byproduct after undergoing diffusion processing.  

Cunningham chose to use bagesse as a raw input for a paper mill.  He was the first person in the US to attempt this type of paper production.  The product was rough, wrapping paper, similar to kraft paper.  Actually, Cunningham's mill was the first to produce paper of any kind in Texas.   Here is photo of bagesse piling up on the east bank of Oyster Creek across from the refinery.  The paper mill was just across Main Street, roughly where the camera is located. (I assume it is on the roof of the building.)

Finally, here's a photo of Cunningham's home, which stood on the northeast corner of the intersection of Brooks and Guenther Streets.