Saint Etienne was modelled after “La Maugée”, a sugar refinery covering over 400 hectares from Gros Morne to Saint Joseph in the early 19th century. The architectural structure, including the master’s house, overlooking the distillery and the old workers’ huts, reflect a typical farm in Martinique.
In 1882, Saint Etienne was purchased by Amédée Aubéry, a young captain of industry who became one of the most famous figures in the economy of Martinique. He transformed the sugar refinery into a farm distillery and began to modernise infrastructures. He expanded the factory and built a beautiful façade with 28 curved windows, providing the building with optimal ventilation. Railways were set up near the distillery: draft animals pulled trolleys carrying sugar cane. Hydraulic power was provided by the River Lézarde through a stony canal that ran through the Creole garden.
In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who developed the distillery activity until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot, who relaunched the Saint-Etienne brand and began restoring and enhancing the sugar estate’s architectural heritage. The distillery, henceforth registered in the Additional Inventory of French Historic Monuments, is one of the only-remaining and most precious references of the craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal of industrial architecture of the end of the 19th century in Martinique. Its renovation is nearing completion.
Extract from « Elmire des sept bonheurs »
“A hundred years of rhetoric floats over the Habitation Saint-Etienne… countless cherished secrets too. A crystal ball of secrets that links 1883 and days gone-by to the present day. A treasure-trove of little secrets, ancient knowledge, pure knowledge that only the cultivators of these lands hold the key to.
Of course, we could bring to mind the Gros-Morne (big hill), a land beyond compare. Or the sun rising over the Lézarde River, whose murmur weaves its way through the estate, from Lake Zoumba to Lake Désir, then on to Lake Fourchette and Lake Tambi.
But, first and foremost, it’s Father Simonnet, with his golden watch, and Zolbè, the sugarcane cutter. It’s Théolomène, the ‘séancier’, or medicine man, who worked with the fertilizers, and Colocomède, the ‘oursmamé’, the good stone mason, who built the reinforced-concrete chimney stack at Saint-Etienne, like a palm symbolising victory, dominating the hills.
Then, there was Man Amélya Sérénisse, who spent his whole life cleaning the fermentation containers and bottling; Pè DèDè, who drove the Trabot cart, whose massive wheels were shipped directly from France; and Isidore Adélodaine, the ‘ababa’ (the dazed one), who looked after the garden. The people of Saint-Etienne would always come together, over the years, when the first droplets dripped into the copper cauldron.
Legends, secrets, a thousand fine words… right here, before our eyes, a century of living, of patience, of work, of intelligence unveils itself. This rum, this nectar over which distillers weep with reverential rage throughout the Caribbean… yes, it was us, we concocted it”.
Patrick Chamoiseau, extract from: Elmire des sept bonheurs, confidences d’un vieux travailleur de la distillerie Saint-Etienne (Elmire, of the seven sources of happiness, memories of a former worker from the Saint-Etienne distillery) (Gallimard 1998)