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.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hassel Island

What kind of history could a 135 acre island possible have? In this picture it's the little island at right center, in front of the other little island, which is Water Island. Doesn't look like much, does it? In fact, until 1865 it wasn't an island at all, but a peninsula. At that time the Danes cut through and dredged the low lying area called Haulover, which you can see at the far right, that connected it to St. Thomas thus improving water circulation in the harbor proper.

One source claims that in 1607, Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown, stopped at St. Thomas to collect water, wood and turtles. But I can't confirm that.

In 1671 Denmark successfully colonized St. Thomas and by 1680 the port of Charlotte Amalie was a thriving free trade hub. During the American Revolution, powder, arms and shot were sent to the Continental Army by way of St. Thomas.

To protect the harbor, Prince Frederik's Battery was built in 1788. It sits right at the entrance to the harbor. During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark was friends with the "Little General." St. Thomas was such an important port that the British occupied Hassel Island, once between 1801-02 and again between 1806-15. Both times they expanded or build new batteries and forts. During the British occupation, Prince Frederik's Battery, acquired its present name, Fort Willoughby.

Ft. Willoughby from the sea.

Ft. Willoughby looking towards the docks.

Iron rings, embedded in the stonework, were used to anchor cannons.

My friend, Margaret, waving. Hi Margaret!

I love the brick and stone work.

The British built the Garrison House which was also used for storing munitions. It's construction is unique.

It's the only building I know of whose wooden windows are covered in copper.

Margaret and me in front of the Garrison House.

Between 1840-70, The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, selected St. Thomas as its hub of operations and Hassle Island was the main office. Today that would be very like Atlanta being the hub for Delta. Coal was shipped to St. Thomas and steamships plying the waters between Europe, the United States, and South America had a convenient place to stop and refuel. Coal was also distributed to the U. S. from here.

Hassel Island also became a place where ships could be refit, serviced and otherwise overhauled. By 1844 St. Thomas Marine opened. In later years it was sold and became the Creque Marine Slipway. Ships were pulled out of the water using one of the longest steam-rail systems in the world.

A lot of hard work has gone into stabilizing and clearing away the brush from marina buildings.

Between 1915-32 the U. S. Navy used the island as a navel station. They also leased the marina and used it to service minesweepers and barges.

When I was growing up, there was a small hotel on the island called The Royal Mail Inn. It made for a pleasant evening to be ferried across the harbor and dine on the terrace with a view of the twinkling lights of the city reflected on the water. Royal Mail Inn is thought to be the inspiration for Herman Wouk's very funny novel, Don't Stop the Carnival, which he wrote during the time that he lived on St. Thomas.

In 1978 the National Park bought most of the island. Though the building were neglected for many long years, there is now a very concerted effort to preserve the history of this tiny speck of land.

If you are interested in further information or looking at other pictures, check out the St. Thomas Historical Trust.


  1. Wow, I'd say there's a lot of history on that little island! Dig the stone fort.

  2. Incredibly beautiful! Love all the stone and water!

  3. It seems there's a lot history on that island. That and the fact that it's a lovely spot make it doubly enticing to visit.

    Hope your 2012 is going well.

  4. Just the name of the island begs a question, I'd say! The fort & garrison are super cool. Yes, that stonework is awesome!

  5. Wow! What fantastic photos and amazing history. Thank you so much for the tour, Bish!

    Happy 2012!

  6. So beautiful and so full of history!

  7. Bish, what a sight to see. Those iron rings that were used to anchor cannons are so cool. Awesome!!!!!!! I will check out the Historical Trust, indeed.

    *waving to Margaret* :-)

  8. I just came back to say that the steam ship (The Rhone) looks so interesting. I loved perusing the website, Bish. Thanks for telling me about it. :-)

  9. Thanks for the history lesson. Really nice stonework. They make make stuff like they used to in those days.

  10. Interesting story. I love buildings made of stone. :-)

  11. I love that stonework, too. Glad to hear of the efforts to preserve it.

  12. Bish, This is goll-dang interesting. When the Danes were cutting away and making an island think of what else was going on. Civil war and out West the gold rush was raging, not much caring for the fighting going on in the East. Gold was just discovered in Helena, Montana and all my heroes were evolving in that gold rush camp.

    Gee, isn't it amazing when you go back into history and all that you can dredge up. You two must have been having a ball, rambling among the ruins (hey, good title for a song)Think of all the different kinds of footwear that trod those steps before you.

    I love your posts and sorry I'm often remiss but I get so tied up in my projects and my time's a'fleeting. Gotta make hay ....... you know.
    Love to you, Manzanita

  13. Such beautiful pictures and rich history. I'd love to visit this island.

  14. I smell an adventure in the making! You must use this as writerly inspiration! Beautiful photos...and I learned something today! Cool.

  15. We stopped at St. Thomas on our cruise last January, and I got some parting shots of the Garrison House, and the Fort. When we got home, we were fascinated by these old structures, and had to Google them to see what they were. We're planning another cruise back there just to see them again! Fascinating!

  16. Lived at the Royal Mail Inn for two years - 70's


Your Random Thoughts are most welcome!