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Monday, October 31, 2016

A Survey of the Imperial Mill's Former Location

My colleague on the Fort Bend County Historical Commission, Bruce Grethen, did this work a few months ago. I saved it thinking I would collect additional supplemental information, but I haven't had a chance to do that. It's such a good example of the work he does for our Cemetery and Historic Preservation Committees, that I didn't want to delay any longer.

First a little background on the Imperial Mill. It was a sugar mill built in 1883 by Ambrose Littleberry Ellis and Edward H. Cunningham. At that time, Ellis owned the Sartartia Plantation, roughly the area covered by the old Central Units (former prison farm), New Territories, Telfair, and the land south of I-69 where the new Smart Financial Center is under construction. Cunningham owned Sugar Land and the land surrounding it, including what became the Imperial Sugar refinery. 

They formed a partnership and built the Imperial Mill behind Nalco's present location. More precisely, it was located on the south bank of Oyster Creek across from Constellation Park.  It burned to the ground in late 1913.

It's a little-known site, but important to the growth of Imperial Sugar - even though it had a brief operating life. We'd like to do an archeological survey sometime in the future if it's possible. What you'll see is the preliminary work Bruce has done.

First I want to show the only photo we now have of the mill.  (I've posted it before.) As you can see it was surprisingly large.
A 1909 westward view of the Imperial Mill in the background.
Note the split in the dual tracks. It will help locate the exact position of the camera in later images.

The first step in Bruce's analysis is a 1953 aerial photo of the vicinity. He's overlayed it with the old Sugar Land RR, which ran west of Sugar Land. You can see Central Unit 1 near the middle of the photo. The general layout of the mill is colored red in the middle of the right half of the image.
Next you see he has added a 1912 survey of the area, which was useful because it gave him precise survey coordinates.

The next image shows a magnification the mill's location on the 1912 survey map.
This image shows the magnified area with georeferenced detail from a Sanborn insurance map.
Next we see the georeferenced detail projected on a 1953 aerial photo. Notice the cotton gin, depicted on the Sanborn map, is included.
Bruce also overlayed the detail on a 1968 aerial photo. You can see that Highway 6 (2-lanes) has been constructed.
The last image shows the 1912 georeferenced detail on a 2012 aerial. What a difference 100 years makes.
Now you can see that the camera in the 1909 photo, near the split in the rails, was located on what is now Sugar Land Municipal Airport property. (The cotton gin must have been constructed between 1909 and 1912 since it doesn't appear in the photo but does appear in the Sanborn map.)

I was surprised that the camera was that far west.  I had guessed it was on the east side of Highway 6.