‘Home-Grown St. Croix Heritage’ Draws Large Audience to UVI Great Hall

Clarice C. Clarke shares exhibit from her book, 'Hidden Secrets of St. Croix.'
Clarice C. Clarke shares exhibit from her book, ‘Hidden Secrets of St. Croix.’
Elizabeth Rezende, president of Society of Virgin Islands Historians, welcomes attendees at 'Home-Grown St. Croix Heritage.'
Elizabeth Rezende, president of Society of Virgin Islands Historians, welcomes attendees at ‘Home-Grown St. Croix Heritage.’

Local historians and cultural conservators joined forces Saturday to engross an overflow audience with “Home-Grown St. Croix Heritage,” a wide-ranging exploration of Crucian culture.

The Society of Virgin Islands Historians and the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center partnered in Saturday’s presentation at the Great Hall of the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus.

SVIH President Elizabeth Rezende welcomed the participants and gave an overview of the society at its 31st annual meeting. Members of the society shared presentation of their ‘Home-Grown St. Croix Heritage’ that kept the viewers engrossed into early afternoon.

Photographer Clarice C. Clarke presented “Hidden Secrets of St. Croix,” photographic interpretations of Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage, cultural bearers, historical ruins, and lush landscapes.

Many of Clarke’s photos, framed in mahogany, were on display during her presentation. Her “eye” for the essence and spirit of Crucian culture captures the locale in the pages of her new book of color photographs.

Clarke, who is an avid photographer, retired after working 30 years at the UVI Cooperative Extension Service. She also served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Old Barracks building on St. Croix's Hospital Street.
The Old Barracks building on St. Croix’s Hospital Street.

Gerville Larsen, a sixth generation Crucian and a registered architect, and Mary Dema, of the Christiansted Alliance, delivered “In Search of Identity – A Centennial Legacy Project” as an Update on the Virgin Islands Center for Architecture, Crafts and Built Heritage located at the Old Barracks in Christiansted.

A jury selected the town plan in 2013. The concept includes the revitalization of the Old Barracks as an urban campus and the hub of education within architecture and traditional building crafts.

Larsen was asked if locals would have the opportunity to vote on the new plans. He replied that local professionals would have input and would vote on the new design.

Local and Danish architects worked on the plans under the supervision of architect Gerville Larsen of St. Croix, and professor Mogens A. Morgen, of Aarhus, Denmark.

In the plan, historic ruins would be kept very discernable with a multi-functional courtyard. It would be income generating and sustainable, Larsen said.

The school would offer a two-year associates degree for students coming from such places as Puerto Rico, Florida and South Carolina. They could continue on to other universities to complete the architectural degree, Larsen added.

Dema works with local property owners in an incentive to restore and renovate properties in the town of Christiansted. Rebuilding the town is an opportunity for the youth, she said.

There is a plan to revitalize Christiansted and to bring back vitality to the locked up and abandoned buildings in the town. The projects go back to a 2011 symposium with Denmark and the USVI, Larsen added.

“We are on the cusp of losing a lot of our history, of losing our connection with young people. This is an incredible opportunity for this rock in the middle of the ocean to share our cultural education – a respectable quality of life,” Larsen and Dema agreed.

In answer to an audience question about scholarships for our local youth, Larsen said, “There will be an apprenticeship program and scholarships for our youth. There will be funding for our youth to learn trades.”

The old Jarvis School complex on St. Thomas is also a project with plans for the development of a U.S. Virgin Islands Museum and Cultural Center. With an estimated budget of $20 million, this project petitions for full funding from foundations, organizations and government of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Denmark.

The prerequisite is a joint venture. Historic Houses, the Danish Government and the Government of the USVI have provided initial funding.

Interested parties can contact the project at its website.

Susan K. Beach, who taught science in the V.I. Department of Education is working with Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism leading historical tours to visitors and locals.

Beach presented “The Legacies of Castle Coakley Estate,” the subject of her extensive research from the 1750’s through the 1850’s and beyond.

She gave an account of the enslaved people who lived on the estate and worked at the sugar mills. In 1820, St. Croix was the second largest sugar producer in the Caribbean, with Jamaica being the first, she said.

The highlight of Beach’s presentation was a copy of the census, which revealed

that David Hamilton Jackson was born on the estate in 1884.

John Stout, who has a background of political and social sciences and taught at the public and private schools on St. Croix and also at the University of the Virgin Islands, gave a presentation on “Navigation of the Stars by the Chinese and the Europeans in the 1400s.”

His comprehensive account detailed information about star mapping and the idea that the Chinese explored the Americas many years before Columbus.

Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina, who heads the V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center, introduced a trailer of the video in the making, “The Queens of the Virgin Islands.” The film will be completed within the next month and will give new factual information about 16 queens of the Virgin Islands, she said.

Kahina also introduced a video, “Heal, Virgin Islands, Heritage, Education and Arts Legacy,” that gave the audience a short view of what goes on behind the scenes in the V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center at UVI.

The Society of Virgin Islands Historians is an association of professional historians and associate members, located on the island of St. Croix, but serving all of the Virgin Islands. The membership of the society hails from the Virgin Islands, other Caribbean islands, the United States, Denmark and other countries. The society promotes the study and advancement of local history through a number of activities. and the holding of an annual meeting and conferences. Information about the society is online at its website.

The Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center serves as a liaison designated to create a reservoir of resources and initiatives for faculty, students, staff and the community to maintain and sustain access to materials that nurture, preserve, research, document, restore, promote, protect and respect Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture. Information is online at its website.