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Neltjeberg Bay

Path to Dorothea Beach.

Coral impression on rock

Coral growth on exposed masonry.

Neltjeberg only can be reached by boat or a long hike from Dorothea Bay, a long stretch of bad road. But it’s worth it as Neltjeberg Beach is one of the island’s most beautiful and secluded spots. If the natural beauty of the bay is not enough, the Neltjeberg Plantation ruins are there to explore. Neltjeberg was first settled in 1690 and was the home of a thriving sugar plantation. The original plantation covered 200 acres but the remaining ruins are compact and easily explored just inside the beach. They were probably built in the 18th century with additions added along the way. The entire process, from growing and pressing the cane to converting the sugar into rum and molasses took place here in what are now the ruins of a rum distillery, slave quarters and a gut (creek).

Some distillery ruins are two stories high and still hold the old boiler, a huge iron bowl that is filled now with rainwater and the detritus of the forest instead of boiling brown molasses. At one point, the factory was converted to a makeshift house and the roof is gone.

A horse mill is among the ruins. Horses and donkeys were harnessed to a merry-go-round and walked in circles all day providing power for the cane presses. Ruins of slave quarters are just up the hill from the horse mill.

In 1867, a powerful hurricane devastated the plantation. (This was the same hurricane that spelled curtains for HMS RHONE at Salt Island.) And a few weeks later, the buildings and facilities were further damaged by a massive earthquake. The plantation never recovered from this one-two punch and closed long before the dawn of the 20th century.

The Neltjeberg ruins are privately owned but listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though it is an honor to own ruins that are so designated, the designation does nothing to protect the ruins from being torn down to make room for development. It is only a matter of time before this historic site gives way to the inevitable. By the way, near the gut, the water supply for the old factory, wild pineapple, guavaberry and lime trees thrive.

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