Establishment of VINP Involved More Than Rockefeller

Rev. George Starling, Senator Julius Sprauve, Frank Stick, Laurance Rockefeller and Henry Beebe at Caneel Bay Plantation in 1956.

For many St. John residents, the establishment of the V.I. National Park (VINP) brings to mind only one name—Laurance Rockefeller.

In a Tuesday evening, Feb. 14 presentation to the St. John Historical Society, society board member Bruce Schoonover presented information showing that many more people were involved in establishing the V.I. National Park on St. John.

Good Documentation
Schoonover said he was able to find a lot of documentation relating to the park’s establishment, thanks to a lack of technology in the 1950s.

“They didn’t have anything other than the written word, which means there is good documentation of the process,” he said. Schoonover displayed several letters that were written between four major players in the establishment of the park—Rock-efeller, Frank Stick, Conrad Wirth and Harold Hubler.

Idea Started in 1939
The idea of establishing a National Park on St. John started with Wirth and Hubler in 1939.

Before considering a National Park for St. John, Hubler, an NPS employee assigned to the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Virgin Islands, wrote a report on making Reef Bay an “island park.”

Wirth, who worked as the assistant director of the National Park Service (NPS) Branch of Lands, which was responsible for the investigation of proposed new parks, requested evaluations of St. John for a National park in 1939.

That same year, Hubler wrote a report on making St. John a National Park. The report can still be found in the Elaine I. Spruave Library today.

Hubler would later become the VINP’s first superintendent in 1957.

Rockefeller Arrives in 1952
Rockefeller, who had a lifelong interest in conservation, which was influenced by his father, gave thousands of acres of land and millions of dollars to the National Park Service over his lifetime.

He visited St. John for the first time in 1952, at the age of 42.

That same year, Stick also visited St. John for the first time, at the age of 68. He acquired 1,433 acres of land at Estate Lameshur with four partners, and immediately began making plans for a commercial development at the site.

Within a year, Stick abandoned the idea of development in favor of a National Park.

Stick Proposes Park
Stick wrote a letter on May 30, 1954, to then-Gov. Alexander, proposing a National Park for St. John. He referenced Hubler’s 1939 report on the feasibility of St. John as a National Park.

Stick then wrote to Rocke-feller on June 1, 1954, and enclosed a copy of the letter he had sent to the governor.

In September 1954, Rocke-feller and Stick met with Wirth, with whom they were both close friends, and decided to proceed with their idea of establishing a National Park on St. John.

Rockefeller was to fund, direct and oversee the project, and Stick would line up the options and purchase agreements on the land.

Stick Assembled 5,000 Acres
Two months later, Stick announced that he had options on 5,000 acres of land. He used his own money to acquire the land, and refused Rockefeller’s attempts to compensate him.

Sen. Julius Sprauve introduced legislation to establish the Park on Jan. 27, 1956, which was approved. In a Dec. 1, 1956 ceremony in Cruz Bay, 900 people witnessed Rockefeller’s donation of 5,086 acres of St. John land to the National Park.

$188 Per Acre
Rockefeller paid approximately $960,000 for the land, or $188 per acre. Although this price is unheard of today, it was the going rate at the time.

The 5,086 acres donated by Rockefeller came from different sources. The following land owners on St. John both donated and sold parcels to Rockefeller for the creation of the National Park:
Emily Creque, 719 acres; David and Phyllis Stick, on Behalf of Frank Stick and partners, 1,437 acres; H.E. Lockhart Development Corporation, 843 acres; Irving J. Backer, 374 acres; Frank R. Faulk, 651 acres; Julius Sprauve, 225 acres; Halvar Richards, 54 acres; Claudia Joshua, 150 acres; Rafe Hartwell Boulon, 59 acres; Leonard and Sylvia Cox, 17 acres; Gerhardt Sprauve, 39 acres; Agnes and John Butler, 57 acres; Julia Chanler Laurin, 40 acres; and Rockefeller donated 421 acres of his Caneel property.