Spring Bloom

Spring Bloom
Spring Bloom

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Sweet Treat

What's sweet, hot, melodic, interesting, and engaging?

The Annual Okefenokee Cane Grinding Festival, that's what.

There is one house remaining on Chesser Island which is on the auto tour here at Okefenokee NWR. It was built by Tom Chesser and his wife Ida, for the gigantic sum of $200.00. The rest of the Chesser family lived nearby and they all made a living raising sugar cane and tobacco, and harvesting turpentine.  They also had a garden, chickens and hogs. I'm sure they also hunted and fished since this area is rich in ducks, wild turkeys, and deer.

The best first view of the house is from the staff/volunteer entrance through a tunnel of trees

Tom's father moved into the area in the late 1890's and some members of the family lived on Chesser Island until after the Refuge was established in 1937.  Tom and Ira lived in their house until 1958. Their relatives still live in the area and some of them work for the Refuge or for Okefenokee Adventures, the concessionaire that offers guided tours and rents canoes and kayaks. So staff that have been here the longest, have lots of stories to tell along with the relatives that work here.

 The Refuge has maintained the house.  Ida took her furniture with her when she moved out but helped the Refuge staff buy furniture in the same style. So the house is one of those living museums with volunteers acting as docents to bring the history alive.

One of the AmeriCorps workers visits with the horse who is waiting to grind the cane



Each year, a local volunteer grows cane and then donates it to the refuge. Other volunteers, including several of the Chesser descendents, come to help grind the cane, boil it up, and then can it. They also showcase hunting, fishing, the natural history of the swamp, old-time games, quilting, soap making, and other crafts. Local musicians also come and play and there are old-timey  games and activities for children (and the young at heart).

The cane grinder is ready to go - just add horse and a person to feed the cane into the grinder

I came back on my break to find all the cane had been pressed and the juice was bubbling away in the cauldron.   It takes about three hours to make the cane syrup.  Oh yes, and be SURE not to watch the pot or it may never make.


Not watching the cane boil - but being ready to add wood as needed

 Each year, a local volunteer grows cane and then donates it to the refuge. Other volunteers, including several of the Chesser descendents, come to help grind the cane, boil it up, and then can it. They also showcase, hunting, fishing, the lore of the swamp, old-time games, quilting, soap making, and other crafts.


The Blue Goose and Ali the Alligator made an appearance


Naturalist Don Berryhill brought his skulls and told mesmerizing stories - this one about alligator teeth


Sarah, a staffer and husband Noah had a booth on hunting and fishing


Jackie discusses how to make lye soap

Some of the musicians I didn't get to hear

My boss, Gracie Gooch  gives the start for two AmeriCorps bag racers

The loser of hop-in-a-gunney sack race







Kids enjoyed trying to keep their hoops going


I had to work the visitor center and didn't get to catch all the action. Check out the Refuge's Facebook album for more pictures. (And a little redundancy.)

Sorry for the lateness.  I work Wednesday - Saturday and with wanting to do exercising, find out more about the area, get settled in and just goof off, I'm falling behind on my blogs.  I'll try to catch up soon.