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.