Not only did Gifft Hill School seventh and eighth grade students earn money toward their April cultural trip at the Monday, February 18, Susannaberg Family Fun Day — they learned, and took pride in, a part of their island’s history.
Students led tours of Ronnie Jones’ private Susannaberg family property, sharing its history with Love City residents, while hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the grill were served along with refreshing soursop juice and lemonade. GHS students also sold plants and herbs grown at the school’s garden.
The idea for the family fun day came about several months ago when Jones’ daughter, Nkosi Jones, had some classmates over and showed them the family property, which is home to historical ruins including one of the best preserved sugar mills on island.
Understanding Importance of History
“My daughter took them for a walk on the property, and they said, ‘these old buildings need to be destroyed,’” said Jones. “I told my daughter they don’t understand the importance of history. When the school started talking about having a fundraiser, I thought we could kill two birds with one stone.”
Students conducting tours at the Family Fun Day soon became pros at delivering the Susannaberg property’s history, Jones continued.
“By doing the tours, the kids become a part of history themselves,” said Jones. “They relay the information like they know it and you need to know it. It’s implanted in their hearts.”
While just three tours were scheduled at the Family Fun Day, Jones and the GHS students ended up conducting more than 40 thanks to an excellent turnout.
“There’s been a huge amount of people coming through,” said Viki Brown, a GHS parent who helped organize the event. “It’s been really successful. It feels so good to know we’re all here working together; it’s a real special time.”
The Jones family property can be traced back to the 1800s, when it was owned by Henry and Mary Knevels, who are buried on the property along with Jones’ grandfather, Halvor Neptune Richards, who purchased the then more than 250-acre property in 1943 for $4,000.
1800s Plantation House
“The owner at the time told Neptune he could have the property for $4,000 if he could come up with the money by a certain date,” said Jones, who noted it was rare for black people to acquire plantations in the 1940s. “He managed to come up with $300 and he got a bank loan for the balance.”
The foundation of Knevels’ original plantation house, which blew down in an 1830s hurricane, can still be seen on the Jones property, along with the original cistern.
“The walls are very thick, so it must have been a serious hurricane,” said Jones. “Knevels must have been an affluent plantation owner because of the detail in the cistern. The original hinges are still there, which says something about the craftsmanship of the men who built it.”
After Knevels’ home was destroyed in the hurricane, he constructed a new plantation house, which Jones and his family now call home. A second story was added to the structure 18 years ago, Jones explained.
The wind mill on Jones’ property is one of the newer ones on island. When the St. John native returned to Love City after living in New York, the mill was overrun with trees and another more pesky tenant — bees.
Proceeds To Go To NYC Trip
“The trees were towering out the top, and it was a forest in here,” said Jones. “I also had to fight with some bees. That was a hard fight.”
The mill is now cleared out and was a featured stop on the Family Fun Day tours. Jones hopes to open his property to other school children on the island, he explained.
“Nobody can ever tell the kids who did these tours that this isn’t important,” said Jones. “I want to do it again with kids from other schools because it can benefit them.”
Thanks to proceeds from the Family Fun Day, GHS seventh and eighth grade students will travel to New York City for a week in April, where they’ll attend plays and visit art and history museums.