Friday, 1 February 2013

Spotlight St. Thomas - Self-Guided Walking Tour


You can use this section to take a self guided walking tour of Charlotte Amalie's primary historic sights. This list is not comprehensive, in fact most of the buildings in Charlotte Amalie are historically noteworthy; including many of the buildings that today house shops and boutiques. Visit the attractions in the order listed, reverse order or plan your own route by visiting just the sights that interest you.

Fort Christian

Fort Christian, St. Thomas Historical SightsThis Danish built fort, named after King Christian V, is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands. The bright red fort was built to defend the Danish settlement and harbor from European attackers. Construction of this National Historic Landmark began in 1666 and ended in 1680. In the 1700's, the fort was expanded and in 1874 a new entrance with a Victorian Clock tower was added. Improvements in artillery would render the fort obsolete and it would later be used as a police station, court and jail. It has also been used as Government House, a community center and a church. In 1982 it ceased being the jail and today is home to a local history museum. The museum houses exhibits of historical photos and documents, period furniture, a cane press, local flora and fauna and more. The roof of the fort offers excellent panoramic views of the harbor. Admission: $3 Adults (16 and up). Children are free.
Note: Starting May 2, 2005 Fort Christian will be closed for renovations which are expected to take about a year and a half to complete.

Directions to Next Attraction: The Legislature Building is directly across the street from Fort Christian, on the waterfront side.

Legislature Building

Legislature Building, St. Thomas Historical SightsLocated right on the harbor, is a pretty green, two story structure. It is the Legislature Building and houses the offices of Virgin Islands’ legislators and their staff. The original building was a wooden structure erected in 1828 as barracks for Danish police. The present building is a reconstruction and was completed in 1874. The Roman numerals MDCCCLXXIV can be seen on the front of the building. In 1917, the ceremonies of transferring ownership of the Danish West Indies to the United States were held in the Legislature's courtyard. Between 1917 and 1930 it served as barracks for the U.S. Marine Corps and then as a public school. In 1956 it was restored and occupied by the Legislature and the Department of Social Welfare. From about 1970 to present time the building has served solely as the Legislature.

Directions to the Next Attraction: Exit the Legislature Building's court yard area and turn left, walk along the side walk. At the stop light, turn right (which requires crossing the street). Vendor's Plaza, an outdoor market, will be on your left; you can pick up various souvenirs there. A fire station and Fort Christian will be on your right. Emancipation Park is just above Vendor's Plaza.

Emancipation Park

Emancipation Park, St. Thomas Historical SightsLocated on Tolbod Gade is Emancipation Park. The park was named in commemoration of the July 3rd, 1848 emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies. Many of St. Thomas' official ceremonies are held in the park, as well as several local events. Every U.S. state and territory has a copy of the Liberty Bell; the Virgin Islands' reproduction is located in Emancipation Park.

Directions to the Next Attraction: Directly across the street from Emancipation Park is the Grand Hotel.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel, St. Thomas Historical SightsThe Grand Hotel, built between 1839 and1840, originally occupied an entire city block and was three stories high. The top story was lost around 1896, likely due to hurricane damage. The entire first floor is arched and the second floor includes a huge ballroom with balcony overlooking Emancipation Park. The Grand Hotel was used as a hotel until 1975; it presently houses several shops and restaurants.

Directions to the Next Attraction: Walk along the sidewalk in front of the Grand Hotel toward Fort Christian and turn left up the narrow road. The Lutheran Church is at the end of that short road.

Lutheran Church

Lutheran Church, St. Thomas Historical SightsOne block north of Fort Christian is the Lutheran Church. It is identifiable by its pretty yellow-gold color and its large 'welcoming arms' staircase. This church was the official church of the Danish West Indies. The building went up in 1793. It replaced two earlier buildings that were destroyed by fire. It was refurbished in 1826 and again in 1870. It is still in use today.

Directions to the Next Attraction: When exiting the Lutheran Church's courtyard turn right. The Grand Hotel will be on your left. Soon you will arrive in Post Office Square. Statues of three famous Virgin Islanders are located across from the post office. You can walk up Government Hill on either the right or left side of the small grassy area where the statues are located. Hotel 1829 is just above the small park on Government Hill, along Kongens Gade.

Hotel 1829

Hotel 1829, St. Thomas Historical SightsHotel 1829 was constructed between 1829 and 1831. The structure was originally built as a townhouse for a French sea captain named Alexander Lavalette, whose initials can still be seen in the wrought-iron grillwork on the balcony above the main entrance. This townhouse is a fine example of island architecture during Danish times. The dining room has its original floors and there are several other unique, historic elements to the home. It became a hotel in 1906 and is still operated as a small hotel.

Note: Hotel 1829 can be visited as part of a tour that starts at Blackbeard's Castle and includes Haagensen House Museum and Villa Notman.

Directions to the Next Attraction: Continue following Kongens Gade, the 99 steps are just after Hotel 1829 on the left side.

99 Steps

99 Steps, St. Thomas Historical SightsThese steps were built in the mid 1700s, by the Danes, who found streets of steps to be the easiest way to climb up and down the steep hills of Charlotte Amalie. Some historians have said this stairway, along with many others that cut through nearly all the hills rising from the Charlotte Amalie harbor area, were actually a result of impractical planning on the part of Danish engineers who had never been to St. Thomas. The bricks used to construct the steps were originally brought from Denmark as ballast in the hulls of sailing ships. (The 99 steps are actually 103 steps.)

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