Christiansted National Historic Site


On November 14, 1493 Christopher Columbus, mounting his second voyage of exploration to the New World, stepped onto the beach along today’s Christiansted Bay. It is the only known place which Columbus ever set foot within modern United States territory. The island of St. Croix was, at the time, populated by a number of Carib tribes. Though initially interactions between the Spanish and Caribs were peaceful, as with all European-Native relationships this one quickly soured. Within twenty years the Spanish government decreed that all Caribs should be removed from the island. By 1890, less than a hundred years after Columbus first set foot on St. Croix, the island was completely abandoned by the natives. Thus began a rather turbulent period which saw numerous European nations vying for control of the island. After the Spanish came the Dutch, after the Dutch came the French, and after the French came the Danes. It would be the Danish who established the first permanent settlement on St. Croix.

Arriving on the 1st of September, 1734 the Danes quickly set about constructing a fortification on the site of an old French earthwork. Initially the fortification was simply another earthwork but, after a major hurricane swept through in 1738 and destroyed it, it was decided a permanent masonry fort was necessary. Construction of the fort (primarily through slave labor) began shortly thereafter and it was named Christiansværn (meaning, “Christian’s Defense”) in honor of King Christian VI of Denmark-Norway. With the protection offered by the fort the surrounding settlement, named Christiansted, began to flourish. Numerous buildings necessary to fully exploit the wealth of the island were constructed, including a giant warehouse complex neighboring the fort. As with other neighboring islands, slavery was a lynchpin of the local economy. Sugar was the end product which produced wealth but it was slave labor which worked the plantations which produced it. So it was that up until 1848, with the emancipation of the slaves, Christiansted flourished and became both the largest settlement and seat of government for the Danish Virgin Islands.

The freeing of the slaves, however, caused all this development and prosperity to come to a screeching halt. The Danish government tried to offset the loss of sugar profits by diversifying and increasing trade with other islands in the Caribbean. It was during this time also which saw Fort Christiansværn be repurposed as a detention facility rather than a military outpost. Unfortunately, the efforts to increase trade in the West Indies wasn’t enough so, in 1917, Denmark formally sold their holdings in the Virgin Islands to the United States for a sum of $25,000,000 ($675 million in today’s currency) bringing an end to 183-years of Danish rule on St. Croix. Not much changed in Christiansted as a new territory of the United States. The old fort continued to primarily serve as a courthouse and prison. In 1952 Virgin Islands National Historic Site was established to preserve Fort Christiansværn and a handful of surrounding structures. Renamed Christiansted National Historic Site in 1961, the site encompasses 27-acres within the historic district of Christiansted. Along with the fort, other primary structures include the Danish Customs House, the old Scale House, the surviving portion of the Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse Complex, as well as the Steeple Building and Government House.

This album represents a quick afternoon tour of the National Historic Site I was able to enjoy in early 2021. At the time the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging and, thus, most of the buildings within the site were closed to the public. Even so, the fort was open for self-guided tours and I was able to walk around historic Christiansted to see the other aforementioned structures…albeit just from the outside. Fort Christiansværn, restored to its appearance in 1833, is the centerpiece of the site and as such comprises the majority of the album. The fort is regarded as the best preserved Danish fortification in the Caribbean, of which only five remain. Also, rather than try to describe each photo in my own words I’ve utilized interpretive guides (both online and written) to best explain the stops I made. Credit has been given to the source of each description. With that said, I now invite you along with me as I tour Christiansted National Historic Site, one of the most unique historic sites I’ve yet had the pleasure of visiting. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!


3-26-2021