Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Black History Month - An Architectural Tour

With the discovery of the Virgin Islands by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, these tiny islands were thrust onto the world stage. Because of St. Thomas’s natural deep-water harbor, the islands became a hub for world trade. Slaves, rum, molasses and sugar were only some of the things which passed through the port on their way to Europe, the United States and South America.

The islands were owned or occupied by several different countries over the course of the next several hundred years. By 1671 Denmark established a permanent settlement on St. Thomas. Two years later the first slave ship arrived carrying 103 Africans.

This plaque, in Royal Dane Mall on St. Thomas describes where some of material came from that was used in many of the buildings, not just on St. Thomas, but throughout the islands.

It reads: This is the oldest structure in Royal Dane Mall, build soon after 1831 with local stone and imported brick. Sailing ships from Europe and North America brought light cargoes of special food-stuffs and manufactured goods in exchange for a weightier export of sugar, molasses and run. The heavy ballast of brick and building materials needed on the outward journey could be sold on St. Thomas at a price - hence the variety of bricks observable throughout the alley. That these substantial warehouses have survived, hurricanes and earthquakes is a testimony to the skill of the West Indian craftsmen who built them.

This shows one of alleys in Royal Dane Mall with a warehouse on each side.
The Lutheran Church on St. Thomas was built in 1820.

Annaberg, on St. John, is an example of one of the many plantations. Construction of the plantation began in 1721 and was in operation until 1867. This picture shows the boiling house, where sugar cane juice was boiled down to make molasses, sugar and rum. In the left foreground is an oven used for baking bread.

Interior of the boiling house at Annaberg.

The oven at Annaberg, which is still used today in demonstrations.

The windmill at Annaberg was used to crush sugar cane. When the winds were low there was also a horse mill.

This picture in the dungeon was probably etched into the wall by slaves. It shows how Annaberg looked at the height of its operation.

This is the Enighed Estate House in Cruz Bay on St. John. The original structure that existed in 1803 was severely damaged in the 1837 hurricane, at which point it was renovated and expanded. In the early 1900’s it was partially destroyed by fire, and the estate began to deteriorate. In 1982 after being completely renovated this fine example of a Danish West Indian estate house was dedicated as the Elaine Sprauve Library and Museum.

This is a picture of a typical building on Main Street in Charlotte Amalia, St. Thomas. What make this building unique is that in 1830 the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro was born here. Camille Pissarro went to school in France when he was eleven years old. He returned at the age of 17. In July of 1848, after a slave revolt on the island of St. Croix, he witnessed the emancipation of the slaves. His experiences developed strong beliefs in individual liberty which he carried with him throughout his life. His paintings reflect his love for the common man and pay tribute to peasants, laborers and the lower classes.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took over Hassel Island which is in the harbor of Charlotte Amalia. While they were there they designed and build a small fort, garrison and munitions building. The munitions building is particularly interesting as it is the only building of it’s kind in the world, designed to wick away heat and keep gunpowder from exploding.

This picture shows one of the windows which were sheathed in copper.

Another window, still attached. Notice how thick the walls are.

This is a nice example of brick, stone and plaster work.

When one looks at the many buildings and ruins of plantations, estate houses, warehouses and forts, one can easily forget that the majority of these fine buildings, which have withstood hurricanes and earthquakes, were built with slave labor.


  1. Beautiful buildings. I especially like seeing the detail in that last picture.

  2. Wow Bish -- great pictures. It makes you realize just how hard it was for the people who built these places, not to mention their quality of work to stand up to the test of time.

    Whenever I see your pictures, I start thinking about pirates. Were they a big problem there?

  3. They are beautiful buildings Adrienne...every one of them has its own "aura"

    Rena, There were pirates. Before the majority of the smaller islands were colonized the pirates used their bay and coves and harbors as places to hide. But once St. Thomas was settled by the Danes the pirates had pretty much been pushed out or captured.

    Of course there are local legends, that treasure was hidden in the caves at Norman Island and there is a cay called Dead Chest (which has a special story I'll blog about some day) and there are stories that Blue Beard and Black Beard and others passed through. But as for them being a BIG problem, I don't think so, not in our immediate area. They were after the Spanish gallions coming back from Mexico loaded with gold, they were after the English merchant ships. In those early days, the 1500 to like the mid
    1600's the little islands were hide-outs.

  4. Bish;
    I loved all of your pictures but my favorite is the etching on the beautiful!

  5. I like that etching too, and I find all of this so interesting. I had no idea that Pissarro was born in St Thomas, though I seem to remember his father was Jewish.

  6. Angela, when I was kid, the dungeon, where the etchings are (there's also one of a sailing ship) still had shackles hanging from the wall....

    You are right Mary, Pissarro's parents were Jewish. In fact, the second oldest synagog in the Western Hemisphere is on St. Thomas.

  7. I love the architecture - the stone and brick. The etching in the wall is terrific!

  8. What beautiful pictures...and what a history...


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