Following his discovery of Hispanola in 1492 for Spain one of Columbusí contributions to the was the introduction of a perennial grass for cultivation which we know as sugar cane. Sugar cane can grow up to 18 feet tall, with stalks that are sometimes 7 inches in circumference at the base. It was grown in tropical climates around the world for the extraction of sugar.
By the 16th Century Spain was the dominate force in the Carribean. Originally attracted to the Carribean by gold, it was not long before gold sources dwindled and Mexico and South America became the primary source of gold and other treasure. In the meantime the growing of sugar cane had gradually become a major local agricultural crop and was quickly recognized as the source of valuable trade commodity.
The sugar tradeís connection with the Chesapeake developed partly as a result of the development of the Virginia type fore and aft schooner rig and the evolution of the Baltimore Clipper for trade with the Carribean since this involved sailing against prevailing winds which was difficult for traditional square rigged vessels. The sugar trade grew rapidly and soon became a major Chesapeake Bay import. A proliferation of small sugar refineries soon followed in the Fellsí Point and Canton communities in Baltimore to process this new and profitable import.
The Domino Sugar plant on Key Highway was erected between January 1921 and May 1922 and at one time employed over 1,500 employees. The plant has become a National industrial landmark and it is the last big manufacturing plant operating on Baltimoreís harbor and now employs about 400 workers. It handles 270,000 pounds of raw sugar hourly supplies a significant portion of the Nationís refined sugar market. Sugar arrives at the Domino plant by sea, either in very large barges or ocean-going bulk carriers. With the plant processing 42 million pounds a week, ships can be turned around every seven to eight days Raw sugar arrives partially dried and granulated for handling and is offloaded by cranes at 7-10 tons per grab and conveyed to warehouse pile, 45Ė60 feet high containing up to 100 million pounds. The large lighted Domino sign facing the inner harbor has become a world famous National landmark and was added in 1952.
Up till the late 1980s Captain Ship Chandlery, Inc. operated their petroleum barges across from the Domino Plant at the Western end of Thames Street in Fellís Point next to the former Allied Signal Chromium plant and their tugboat Martom was regularly seen there. Martom was built in 1940 in Avondale, Louisiana as Navy tug YTL-422. In 1946 she was bought by the Harper Towing Company renamed A. J. Harper and was a familiar sight in Baltimore harbor for over 30 years hauling coal barges for Harper. In 1976 she was purchased by Captain Ship Chandlery, Inc., renamed Martom and operated with for a over ten years hauling petroleum barges. In 1994 she was sold to be used as a houseboat and named Wildflower. The Barge in this scene, M. Payne, is now operated by Vane Brothers as VB 6.