Celebrating our Historic Architecture
Enduring monuments of former days, the historic buildings of Christiansted and Frederiksted, exemplifying Danish tropical town architecture characterized by arched walkways, or displayed in a handful of great houses scattered outside the towns, contribute to the very special atmosphere found on this island. While the glory brought about by the riches garnered from the lucrative cane sugar cultivation is no longer a part of our economy, the fact that we still possess so many handsome structures as legacy of those times is worthy of celebration. Over the years, numerous hurricanes and an earthquake with tsunami, fires and the impact of the tropical climate have all been major challenges to preserving this legacy, yet we can observe a substantial number of buildings, public and private, that have successfully weathered all these hazards.
The original workmanship that went into these buildings, a testimony to the skills of slaves put to work in their construction, used traditional methods that proved resistant to many of the above-mentioned dangers. Sturdy materials were used, such as imported Danish brick carried as ballast on the vessels calling here to return with their cargoes of sugar and rum. Still, regular maintenance dictated by weather conditions is required.
This can be costly, and while we are fortunate to see certain public buildings, e.g. the handsome ensemble of the Christiansted National Historic Site structures administered by the National Park Service - currently celebrating the site's 60th anniversary - as well as our impressive Government House in beautiful shape, we also see houses as ruins or severely decayed. Many of the latter structures were victims of the severe hurricane Hugo that hit this island in September 1989. Many insurance companies failed due to the massive number of claims, leaving property owners unable to restore the buildings to usable condition. Low property taxes and living off-island have caused some owners to keep these distressed properties, creating a blight in areas of the towns. Considerable effort, often using a public/private partnership, has, however, been made to restore many buildings, especially in Frederiksted.
There are several initiatives being taken on an international basis to successfully rehabilitate blighted areas of the town in time for the 100th anniversary of the Transfer of the Danish West Indies to the U.S. to become the U.S. Virgin Islands. The date of March 31, 2017, will undoubtedly be one of celebration of not only 100 years of progress under the American flag, but also of maintaining a warm friendship between Denmark and her former colonies. The increased Danish visitation to the islands, particularly thanks to the direct charter flights from Denmark to St. Croix, has brought greater awareness of our part in Denmark's history, once having contributed great wealth to Danish government coffers as well as to individual property owners of sugar plantations in this distant location.