Feb. 16, 2012 – The first sugar mill in Texas was built by William Stafford, who came to Texas in 1822 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred.” Stafford, who was a native of Tennessee, had operated plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana before coming to Texas. Along with several other colonists, he brought sugar cane cuttings with him when he came here. The first sugar mill was horse-operated, and the sugar it produced was raw and unrefined. Stafford had some difficulties of the violent kind and ended up killing a man, which precipitated a quick exit from Texas. The charge was later dropped but while Stafford was away, Santa Anna’s army dropped by long enough to destroy the plantation and mill. It was never rebuilt. Five miles away, Nathaniel and Samuel May Williams ran the Oakland Plantation, which was unscathed by Santa Anna. By 1843, the plantation was producing some of the first sugar for sale on a commercial basis in the state. Around 1853 the mill was sold to Benjamin F. Terry (of Terry’s Texas Rangers fame) and William Kyle; the name of the plantation was changed from Oakland to Sugar Land. In 1857, Terry and Kyle constructed the Houston Tap & Brazoria Railroad line to haul sugar to Houston from Fort Bend, Wharton, Matagorda and Brazoria Counties, which was known as the “Sugar Bowl” region of the state. The industry functioned well with slave labor, but the Civil War put an end to the practice. Later, convict labor would be utilized in much the same way. Aside from putting an end to slavery, the Civil War also out an end to Terry, who was killed in action; Kyle died of natural causes. Col. E.H. Cunningham bought the Sugar Land mill at an auction and by 1890, had rebuilt it into one of the finest sugar refineries in the South. By the end of the century Texas was ranked third among the country’s sugar producing states but the plantation at Sugar Land was languishing. The I.H. Kempner family of Galveston bought the Sugar Land refinery in a distress sale in 1907, and Dan Kempner became its president. As a college student, Dan Kempner had stayed in New York’s stylish Imperial Hotel, prompting him to rename the business the Imperial Sugar Company. The crown that serves as the company’s logo was reminiscent of the hotel’s crest on its stationery. Eight sugar mills and a refinery operated at Sugar Land by 1903, and expansion continued until the 1920s when production declined. Mosaic disease affected crops throughout the U.S., including Texas sugar cane, and prices dropped from 14 cents a pound to a nickel and eventually to 3.63 cents in 1921. The growing of sugar cane in Texas was over by 1926; the last raw sugar mill, the one at Sugar Land, was dismantled in 1928. Imported raw sugar started coming to the states in 1902, from Cuba and the West Indies. Sugar Land was a company town made up of mostly Czechs and Germans from the Schulenburg and Flatonia areas. The company built homes, provided medical care and organized a bank along with a store, paper mill, gin and feed mill. The Imperial Sugar Company merged with the Cunningham Sugar Company in 1917, and Sugarland Industries was organized two years later. The company’s holdings came to include a motor company and truck line along with farming and ranching interests and a telephone company, Sugar Land Telephone. By 1932, Imperial was the only sugar manufacturer left in the state but the Great Depression slowed the company to the point where it needed a reconstruction loan to survive. During World War II, with sugar quotas suspended, Imperial provided all of the sugar for Texas and Oklahoma. The company gained market dominance after the war, and continued to expand and diversify its holdings. As the city of Houston expanded and property was sold, the old cane fields became Houston suburbs. The lower Rio Grande Valley produced the first sugar cane harvest in 50 years in 1973, and a new sugar mill there became the refinery’s primary source of raw sugar. In 1989, the Imperial Sugar Company bought the Holly Sugar Corporation, which produced beet sugar, and formed the Imperial Holly Corporation. Today, the Imperial Sugar Company is still headquartered in Sugar Land and Texas grows about 1.6 million tons of sugarcane on about 40,000 acres. William Stafford had the right idea all along.