Tag Archives: Christiansted National Historic Site

Caring for the St. Croix National Parks?

Back in the snow and reality after two weeks visiting national parks in the US Caribbean.
Yesterday I wrote about Christiansted National Historic Site in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. We visited two other national parks on St. Croix, Buck Island Reef National Monument, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park. All three need lots of help from friends.

At Christiansted NHS, after the fort, we continued the tour:
2.  Steeple Building used to be the original Lutheran church and now a museum – closed
3.  Warehouse – closed
4.  Custom house and post office from 1751. The signs are fading and the building is closed
5.  The Scale House is used as offices, closed to the public. Outside there are exhibits on Alexander Hamilton.
6. Government House, closed.
7. Active Lutheran Church, also closed, though I managed to visit the church during a service.

I met Ranger David J. Goldstein, chief of interpretation for the three parks on St. Croix. I was hoping that a tour would be offered but the parks are underfunded and understaffed.

“My priorities are the children on the island. They don’t know about this place. They don’t know why they’re here,” he said. So no ranger talks for the general public. I sympathized with him.

I was really hoping for a tour of Salt River where Christopher Columbus landed. But there’s only a Volunteer out there two days a week, just on weekdays–wrong time for us. But we got out there on our own after many twists and turns and Lenny’s navigational skills. The picture above is the beach where Columbus landed on his second trip in 1493.

I am outraged at how little help these national park gems are getting. This is not a poor area. We met rich retirees from the mainland with second homes. Many are living here permanently. The upscale restaurants show that there is plenty of money here.

These folks could be volunteers. Where is the Friends group? Almost every national park has a Friends group. This group fund raises for the park, supplies volunteers and in general raises visibility for the park. The parks also need volunteers that will give tours, clean up the trails and do a thousand things that the park staff doesn’t have the resources to do.

Heck, how about just writing a check? Even the Eastern National bookstore wasn’t open this past weekend.

All three units could use a lot of help from the residents. The National Park Service can’t do it all. Even before all the budget cuts and sequestration, the National Park Service was never well-funded. There has to be support from the locals.

And what about the Danes who come to see their country’s heritage? St. Croix is the most Danish of the Virgin Islands. All park pamphlets were in Danish and English. So are the restaurant menus. A mother and daughter came from Denmark to celebrate the mother’s 60th birthday. She had worked as a nanny in St. Croix over 40 years ago. There are Danish tours from November to April. I spoke to several Danes who say that they came for their history. Of course, they help the island’s general economy but none seems to trickle in to the national parks.

Shouldn’t there be a Danish Friends of the St. Croix national parks? Money, time, and effort are needed to refurbish the fort and open up the other buildings.

Even the tourist brochures have very little mention of the national parks. VISITUSVI.COM has an exhibit board in the center of town offering sightseeing suggestions. Visiting the Christiansted fort is only suggested on Day 5, maybe.

I wrote a letter to the St. Croix Avis, their daily paper.  But who knows if it will ever see the light of day.

If you’re in the Virgin Islands, visit St. Croix and its national park gems and drop a ten-dollar bill in their donation box.

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Visiting Christiansted in St. Croix

I’m back from our Caribbean National Parks trip. It would be so easy to just move on but I want to talk about at least one more park in the Virgin Islands, Christiansted National Historic Site, in St. Croix.

After enjoying the trails, beaches and donkeys of St. John, we flew to St. Croix. If you find yourself lucky enough to visit to the Virgin Islands, don’t miss the island of St. Croix.

St. Croix, the largest of the three US Virgin Islands, is the most Danish. A latecomer in the European race for colonies and profits in the New World, Denmark occupied the uninhabited islands of St. Thomas (1671) and St. John (1717). When they needed land more suitable for sugar cultivation, the Danes purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. It became a cosmopolitan town; at one time or another, the white population of Christiansted consisted of Danes, and Norwegians, British, Germans, Dutch, Irish, and a few Sephardic Jews. There is an active synagogue in Christiansted, though we decided to skip the Friday night services.

The major historic building left by the Danes is Fort Christiansvaern. It sits in the middle of town, with its cannons still pointing out to sea, though I doubt if it could take on a hostile navy now. Christiansted National Historic Site was established in 1952 and consists of seven acres and six historic buildings; Government House (1747), Steeple Building (1753), Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse (1749), Custom House (1830), Scale House (1856), and Fort Christiansvaern (1738). The mission is to preserve the historic structure and grounds within its boundaries, and to interpret the Danish economy and way of life here between 1733 and 1917. It needs a lot of help.

We visited the Fort on a Saturday, hoping to get on a scheduled ranger tour but there isn’t enough staff. Instead, Jasmine, a lovely fifth grader, asked if we wanted a tour. “Yes, please,” we said.

She showed us the dungeon for bad slaves. “If you burned cane fields, they put you in solitary confinement.” It was a small black hole. She also made sure that we saw the urinals where human waste went straight out to the sea.

Alexander Hamilton grew up in Christiansted with his divorced mother. The father, much more socially powerful than the mother, had her imprisoned for a while in the fort. At least, she had her own cell. Upstairs, the cannons faced out to sea. They had created a triangle with two other forts if enemies came but the fort was never attacked.

Jasmine had the singsong uptalk of a tween trying to recite important facts. But she did a great job and saved us the trouble of figuring out the rooms from a paper guide that had been photocopied to death. Jasmine is hoping to work for the Park Service and is getting a great start. At the end, we thanked her with a ten-dollar bill. She went off happy.

Most of the other buildings belonging to the site were closed. In the evening, I found a service in the historic Lutheran church. The pastor, a tall rotund man, wore a white robe with a rope holding the garment closed. When I got there, the congregation was up at the pulpit getting the Eucharist, followed by great singing led by an inspired choir.

The president of the congregation made announcements and asked. “Are there any visiting Danes who are worshipping with us tonight?” Three couples stood up. Other visitors? I didn’t stand up because I wasn’t worshipping, just observing. The music got lively and everyone swayed, even the minister and a woman similarly dressed in a white robe. The Danes’ eyes popped out of their heads. They sang, “I shall not be moved.”

The three national parks in St. Croix could use a lot of help. To be continued.

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