The Dinosaurs of Bongoland at Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens

Date Visited: 5/7/2019

There’s is something to be said about those magical places where the unexpected happens. Those mystical little unknown spots where you find the historian, the nature lover and the inner child in you simultaneously satisfied. Today’s subject is one such place!

We had left the sugar mill ruins in New Smyrna Beach and made our way to the Dunlawton sugar mill in Port Orange. Now I had heard rumors that there was more to see here than the remains of another of Volusia County’s old sugar plantations. I had heard this was a place where dinosaurs still roam.

When we left New Smyrna Beach we were tracing the trail of the steam powered cane press machinery that had been moved from the Cruger-dePeyster plantation in New Smyrna to this location in the 1830s.

What remains of a once expansive 995 acre plantation is now a 10 acre historic site and botanical garden. We hurried through the gates and made our way to the site of the mill ruins. Unlike the ruins in New Smyrna much of the machinery is still in place; including pieces of the steam furnace, the cane press, some boiling kettles and other parts for which I’m not familiar.

History

In 1804 a 995 acre Spanish land grant was awarded to Patrick Dean. Dean grew sugar cane, cotton, and rice until his untimely death in 1818.

The property passed though several hands until it was purchased in 1832 by Sarah Petty Anderson (Dunn) and her sons. The mill produced sugar and molasses until December of 1835 when the Second Seminole War began.

During the war the mill was burned down again and it sat abandoned until 1846 when it was purchased by John Marshall. Marshall rebuilt the mill and it was (once again) at the business of pressing cane, although not productively.

In 1856 it was burned again during the Third Seminole Indian War.

During the Civil war the property was used by the St. John Rangers. They used the kettles on the property to make salt and preserve food. Eventually the property was sold again to William Dougherty in 1871 who divided the land into smaller lots and then sold them off.

During the 1940s and 50s the property was leased by Dr. Perry Sperber who converted it into an amusement park. The park, called Bongoland, featured animals, a re-created Indian village, a train ride through the park and even a trained monkey called Bongo, which I assume is how the park got its name.

Now I promised you dinosaurs and this is where they come in. Dr. Sperber commissioned “Manny” Lawrence to build concrete dinosaurs which where scattered throughout the park.

There are five of these dinosaurs remaining in the park today.

They are constructed of concrete and chicken wire and although their paint has long faded and they show serious signs of wear I think that gives them all the more character and reminds me of the days when we thought all dinosaurs were just grey colored blobs of flesh, teeth and bones.

This is where the kid in me got really excited because as you already know from reading past stories, dinosaurs were kind of my thing as a child.

Sadly the amusement park only lasted about five years and then it sat abandoned until it was bequeathed to the city of Port Orange by the property owner in 1963.

In 1985 the property was leased by the Botanical Gardens of Volusia who use it as a place to educate local gardens.

The property is open daily for all to enjoy and explore. There are winding paths that take you through the gardens, the mill ruins, and a children’s garden. In addition, there is a memorial for fallen officers where hubs paid his respects, a herb garden, various water features, and a few random pieces of equipment from the era of sugar scattered around the property.

I was particularly fond of the fern grotto and Mr. McGee found the human sun dial fascinating.

This was such an enjoyable place to visit. The stroll through the gardens was relaxing and the hunt for dinosaurs was like an Easter egg hunt on steroids. Add this to the chance to see the well preserved workings of a cane mill (one of the best we’ve seen so far) all making this day rise to the top of our daily outing list (so far). And did I mention, the weather was perfect!

We really hope you enjoy hearing about all the new places we explore and continue to follow us along our journey when we come back next week to tell you about how we kind of/sort of get lost for a brief moment inside a Florida ravine.

Until then…

Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens 
950 Old Sugar Mill Road 
Port Orange, FL 32129
386-767-1735
WEBSITE

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