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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Downtown Smells - Part Three

The Waterfront of Charlotte Amalie had its own symphony of smells.

First and foremost was the smell of the harbor water; salty, with a trace of seaweed. Because so many fishermen sold their daily catches there, there the distinct smell of fish. Mixed up with fish and salt was the smell of gasoline and diesel produced by the many motor boats which plied the waters.
Sloops from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and from Puerto Rico used to line the concrete shore, selling everything from bananas to fish. At the far end of this picture, center left, below the hill is French Town. The Russian Embassy was located there.
Down the road from this picture was the Potts Rum factory. To me it smelled just like ripe black olives. Potts Rum is no longer in business, though on St. Croix the finest rum of the Caribbean, Cruzan, is still made eight generations later.

French Town smelled very much like the Waterfront. It is the home of our contingent of French Huguenots, a people who fled France due to religious prosecution. Some of them found their way into the southern United States and are the Cajuns. French Town is a cluster of small homes and businesses separate from, yet next to, the city of Charlotte Amalie. It is right on the water and the Frenchies who live there are the fisherman, whereas those who live up on the Northside of the island are the farmers.

Away from town, down by the airport, was the St. Johns Bay Rum Factory. For a short while we lived right up the hill from it. Talk about a wonderful aroma! If you have never smelled Bay Rum (it’s not something you drink, it’s a kind of perfume) I can only describe it as spicy; a combination of cinnamon and cloves. It is made from the oils of the leaf of the Bay Tree, not to be confused with Bay Laura used in cooking.

Here's a picture of a Bay Tree growing in our yard.

It’s a beautiful tree, with smooth silvery bark and shiny deep green leaves. The company is still in existence, though their operation has moved to Havensite Hall down at the dock where the cruse ships come in.

Lastly, hovering over all these smells; the smell of the bakery, the market, the waterfront, the rum and the bay rum factories, was that of the effluent that flowed right through town and into the harbor.

Yes, that’s right folks. Raw sewage used to be dumped into the harbor and that raw sewage flowed down large open concrete lined drainage ditches called guts.

Whiffs of it could be detected everywhere. When it was particularly strong we called it the Sewer Rose. The guts, thank goodness, are all covered now, and very little sewage finds it way to the harbor now that there is a treatment plant. Yet of all the odors from my childhood, that of the harbor water and the Sewer Rose are the only ones that still remain.


  1. Great pictures and I'm glad you gave us the close up of the leaves. So interesting. You do such a good job attending to details. And the smells I always find interesting. It really tells you a lot about a place, doesn't it?

  2. You were pretty tricky leading us along with rum and spices and then springing the sewer ditches! But I sure do have an olfactory picture of this harbor town now. :)

  3. Wonderful descriptions from the bay rum to the sewer smell!!

  4. Bish, reading all your posts about smells makes me realize how evocative they are ... and how difficult it is to write about them.

    If someone has never smelled cinnamon, how do you explain it?

    I love feeling like I've held hands with you walking about downtown.

  5. My dad used a bay rum cologne so I think I know that smell. I literally wrinkled my nose when you described the sewer!

  6. Great post, Bish, as always. I always feel like I've gone on an adventure after reading your blog!

  7. Thanks everyone! Smells are hard to do, but there were/are so many in the islands, I wanted to share a few.


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