Historic Landmarks

June 12, 2014 No Comments

Of the five National Historic Landmarks in the U.S.V.I., three are located on St. Thomas. The St. Thomas Synagogue, just a few blocks off Main Street, is the oldest synagogue in continuous use under U.S. jurisdiction and the second-oldest in the Western Hemisphere. This celebrated structure retains its authenticity complete with sand floors—a remnant of the congregation’s Sephardic tradition.

Along the waterfront to the south sits the oldest-standing structure in the U.S.V.I.: Fort Christian. The rugged red edifice, located across from Vendors’ Plaza next to the waterfront, has been in continuous use since 1680, serving as a fortress, the center of government, a jail, and a church. It now houses the Virgin Islands Museum, where artifacts and old maps trace the rich history of the archipelago.

The Frederick Lutheran Church is another structure of religious significance in Charlotte Amalie. Situated just north of Emancipation Park on the other side of Main Street, it is the oldest church on St. Thomas and the second-oldest Lutheran church in the Western Hemisphere. It has been rebuilt twice since its original construction. More than two centuries later, it still holds worship services at the original site.

One block behind the Lutheran church, Government House has served as the center of St. Thomas’ government since the mid-1860s. Visitors interested in learning more about the island’s political life may tour the building’s first two floors.

For more historical sites, head up to Government Hill by way of the legendary 99 Steps, which begin at Government House. The Danish built these steps in the mid-1700s out of bricks that were once used as ballast on their ships.

At the top of the hill is St. Thomas’ third National Historic Landmark: Blackbeard’s Castle, aka Skytsborg Tower. The fortified stone tower spans 20 feet in diameter at its base and reaches 31.5 feet in height. Aside from its floors, the tower remains unchanged from its original 1679 construction. How and when the tower was named for the infamous pirate Blackbeard remains a mystery, as there is little evidence to prove he ever set foot on St. Thomas. However, the swashbuckler did roam the Caribbean waters in the early 18th century, and legend has it that he used this tower as a vantage point. Today, the tower is surrounded by thriving gardens and the same breathtaking views enjoyed by the island’s first watchmen. The castle’s grounds feature the world’s largest collection of life-sized pirate statues.

Also atop Government Hill is the Caribbean World Amber Museum, which takes guests on an exploration of the 300-million-year history of amber and gives them a chance to view the shimmering Caribbean World Amber Waterfall, the largest amber waterfall in the world.

Another Government Hill attraction is the Seven Arches Museum, a specialized exhibition space that reviews the history of the island’s Danish ancestors.

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