Visitors touring the historic Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins can now learn even more about the area thanks to a collaborative effort by the St. John Historical Society and the V.I. National Park.
New signs posted around the property name specific types of trees and plants around Annaberg and its provision garden.
The signs were erected after years of Annaberg docent Bruce Schoonover — who is also a St. John Historical Society board member — fielding endless questions about the flora around the site, he explained.
“What really prompted this was that we would get a lot of questions about the plants and trees out there so I took it back to the board of directors of the Historical Society,” said Schoonover.
Historical Society president Eleanor Gibney, an avid horticulturist, jumped at the idea, Schoonover added.
“Eleanor thought it was a great idea and the board approved a sum of money for the project,” he said. “We wrote a letter to VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove and he was absolutely delighted with the idea too.”
With everyone on board, Gibney toured the grounds and identified the plants and trees late last year. The St. John Historical Society ordered 27 signs and installed them around the Annaberg grounds in late January. Since then visitors have enjoyed identifying the plants and trees at Annaberg.
“It really does enhance the vistior experience to the site,” said Schoonover. “I think people really appreciate having the added knowledge of what is growing up there.”
The plant life at Annaberg has been vastly improved by a gardener who has been working at the property for two years.
“Charles the gardener is responsible for the provision garden,” said Schoonover. “He’s taken over ownership of that garden and has brought in all sorts of plants that you would find in a traditional provision ground like coconut, banana, guava and sugar cane.”
“He’s just a really personal guy and he goes out of his way to inform people about the trees and plants up there,” Schoonover continued. “He gets the sugar cane and cuts it into little pieces so people can sample it. He takes a great deal of pride in everything he does.”
Another draw at Annaberg is the docents themselves, without whom there would be no new flora signage.
The volunteer Annaberg Docent program was launched by Friends of VINP six years ago in an effort to share the rich history of the estate with visitors. There are currently 12 docents who are stationed at Annaberg between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Many of the docents have been volunteering at Annaberg for years and, in addition to answering questions, often give visitors full tours of the area.
The signage project is an excellent example of what can happen when different island agencies work together, explained Schoonover.
“The Annaberg project was a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when multiple unique organizations of St. John work together for a greater good,” he said. “And clearly the public is well served by such efforts. Anyone who hasn’t been to Annaberg lately, it is certainly worth the visit, particularly during the time when the Friends’ Docents are there to provide an understanding of its history.”
“While at Annaberg, you may also wish to take a detour over to the historic Annaberg School site, which has recently been re-cleared by the Park Service and is the beneficiary of a new interpretive sign, thanks to the Historical Society,” Schoonover said.