The Bulow Plantation Ruins — or BulowVille — located in Flagler Beach, offer visitors a glimpse into the storied and sometimes notorious history of the sugarcane industry in the state.
Major Charles Wilhelm Bulow purchased 4,675 acres of wild near a tidal creek in 1821, which would later be named after him. Using enslaved people, he cleared 2,200 acres of the land and cultivated sugarcane, cotton, rice, and indigo for dye. Bulow died soon afterward leaving the management to his 17-year-old son, John J. Bulow. It was at the time the largest sugar plantation in East Florida.
In 1828, James Emanuel Ormond III, a young resident of the plantation, provided a brief description. According to him, there was a spacious fishing boat with eight oars, capable of carrying guns, nets, tents, and cooks. As for meals, “”they had plenty of milk, eggs, butter and supply of hogs: venison, turkeys, wild honey and coontic bread provided by Seminole hunters,” Ormond wrote.
His description of John Bulow was less than flattering. “Being graduated in all the devilment that could be learned in Paris,” he wrote. He was “well educated, but very wild and dissipated.”
To provide access to the ocean on the eastern side, a roadway and bridge were constructed from the plantation, crossing the creek. Additionally, several coquina quarries were utilized to extract building material.
The French Colonial style mansion had two separate kitchens, stood at 2 1/2 stories tall. The first story was made of coquina stone plastered in stucco, and had a wrap-around veranda . Surrounding the main house in a semi-circle were 46 houses where the 300-400 enslaved workers resided. The property also included a sawmill, corn house, large sugar works with a steam engine, cotton gins, poultry houses, blacksmith shop, fodder storage, and river piers.
One of BulowVille’s most famous visitors was naturalist John James Audubon, who visited in December, 1831 while working on his landmark book “Birds of America.” His illustration of a pair of Greater Yellowlegs (or a “Tell-tale Godwit or Snipe”) includes a scene of BulowVille in the background. More than 80 species of birds have been recorded at the site, according to eBird.org.
John J. Bulow was said to have maintained a positive relationship with his Seminole neighbors and opposed the government policy of forcefully relocating Seminoles to reservations west of the Mississippi.
When Major B.A. Putnam marched his militia onto the plantation to use it as a base for raiding Seminole camps, Bulow fired a small cannon at the troops. But the plantation was seized anyway and Bulow was placed under house arrest.
In early January, 1836, Seminoles set BulowVille ablaze, along with other nearby plantations. Bulowville was abandoned in haste as the militia returned to St. Augustine. On January 31, a “great rosy glow” could be seen in St. Augustine as the plantation burned.
On April 1, 1836, Bulow made an appearance before a Justice of the Peace in St. Augustine, where he documented the losses incurred due to the army occupation and hasty evacuation, which prevented anyone from retrieving their personal belongings. He held the US Army responsible for the destruction of his prosperous plantation. According to reports, Bulow passed away in St. Augustine on May 7, 1836.
BulowVille was never rebuilt.
The remnants of the sugar mill, including the coquina ruins, wells, and spring house, as well as the deteriorating foundation of the mansion, are the only remains that exist today. The once-cleared fields have now been taken over by the forest, giving the area a similar appearance to when it was inhabited by the Timucua Indians, who were the original residents of the region.
In the years that followed, the plantation passed through several owners, with the last owner being the State of Florida. The state designated the plantation as a state park in the 1950s, and it has been open to the public ever since.
Today, visitors to Bulow Plantation can take a self-guided tour of the historic site, which includes the ruins of the sugar mill and the slave quarters.
The park also offers visitors a chance to hike, bike, and picnic and kayak. There are several miles of nature trails for visitors to explore, as well as a picnic area. Visitors can also go bird watching, as the park is home to a variety of bird species.
There are also several events held at the park throughout the year, including reenactments of the Seminole Indian attack, as well as demonstrations of sugarcane grinding and syrup making. For more local history, be sure to check out Princess Place and Washington Oaks State Park.
Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is open year-round, and guided tours are available on weekends. The park is located at 3501 Old Kings Road, Flagler Beach, FL 32136. Admission is $4 per vehicle.
Bulow Plantation Photo Gallery