Feb. 8, 2002 – Come Monday, it will be 50 years since Gov. Morris DeCastro and Interior Secretary Oscar L. Chapman signed the agreement that created the Christiansted National Historic Site.
The National Park Service plans to kick off a year-long golden anniversary celebration on Sunday with a program at the Christiansted Bandstand. There'll be an hour of music beginning at 1 p.m., with speeches to follow.
Following the ceremony, park rangers will give tours of the site.
"It's appropriate for us to celebrate with the community," Supt. Joel Tutein said. Admission to the Christiansted National Historic Site will be free throughout the day.
The "site" at present consists of seven structures — Fort Christiansvaern, the Steeple Building, the Customs House, the Scale House, Government House, the Christiansted bandstand and the National Park Service's most recent acquisition, the downtown Christiansted post office.
Those speaking will include Delegate Donna Christian Christensen, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, and National Park Service Deputy Director Patricia Hooks. There also will be performances by the St. Croix Heritage Dancers, Pearl B. Larsen Heritage Dancers and Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights.
During the ceremonies, the governor will be presented a copy of the new "U.S. Virgin Islands: Official National Park Handbook," a 228-page guide to all five National Park Service facilities in the Virgin Islands. These are the V.I. National Park and the Coral Reef National Monument on St. John and the Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island Reef National Monument and Salt River Bay National Historical Park on St. Croix.
William Cissel, the historian for St. Croix's National Park Service facilities, said the book also includes information about Virgin Islands natural history, geology, people, history and culture. In it are photographs and other color illustrations not previously published. "It's equally informative for residents as well as tourists," Cissel said.
The book was produced by the National Park Service's Interpretive Design Center in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, with input from N.S. staff in the Virgin Islands. Priced at $7, the book will be sold at park visitor centers on St. Croix and St. John.
Cissel said the push for the area to be named a national historic site came from Crucians such as D.C. Cuneata and R.H. Amplest Leader; mainland transplant George van Riper, who chaired the St. Croix Museum Commission; and the St. Croix Landmarks League. Cissel said the St. Croix Museum, housed in the Customs House, opened in 1952, just nine days before the area was designated the Christiansted National Historic Site.
"It had all those little cubbyholes where you could weave your way through St. Croix history," Cissel said of the museum. He said the museum guide, a woman named Valmoer Jacobs, was a great storyteller who brought history alive for visitors. In fact, Cissel said, his own experiences in the museum contributed to his unflagging interest in history.
When the museum was disbanded in the early 1960s, part of its collection went to the National Park Service and part went to the St. Croix Landmarks Society, which was the successor to the St. Croix Landmarks League. Tutein said the site has changed a lot since its inception in 1952. In 1960 its name was from Virgin Islands National Historic Site so as to avoid confusion with the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.
Despite the site's designation in 1952, it wasn't until 1996 that the last of the local government departments moved out of the facilities. "It's been a very uphill struggle for the park to reach the point where it met national park standards," Cissel said.
The site centerpiece, Fort Christiansvaern, housed the police station, the fire station, Civil Defense headquarters, the jail and Territorial Court, and it was where young men registered for Selective Service. It wasn't until the late 1970s that all those departments moved out. The park began restoration work in 1980.
The Steeple Building, now a museum, a onetime Lutheran church, was a school until 1964. The Customs House, which now houses the park superintendent's office, served as a library until the mid 1970s. The Scale House had been occupied by the harbormaster's office and the Tourism Department; the park service restored the building in 1977, but it wasn't until 1996 that Tourism vacated the premises.
Last September, the National Park Service bought the downtown Christiansted post office building, which will be open in its unrestored state on Sunday. Cissel estimates that restoration work on the structure will take up to three years. The plan is to create an African slave museum within its walls with background on the infamous Middle Passage that brought slaves from Africa's west coast to St. Croix. The building, constructed in 1749, was a warehouse with a yard where slaves were auctioned.
"It was the oldest and largest former slave-trading compound under the U.S. flag," Cissel said.
Government House is a part of the historic site although since 1984 is has been owned by the local government.
The site can continue to be expanded, Tutein said. In fact, there is "soon to be an eighth structure," he said. But he declined to identify what building it is, saying only "We'll let you know when the time comes."


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