Local Archeologist Tells Tales in Christiansted

Local archeologist David Hayes presents his stories Thursday. (Source photo by Elisa McKay)
Local archeologist David Hayes presents his stories Thursday. (Source photo by Elisa McKay)

When you hear someone is an archaeologist, you might expect a sun-burned man wearing a sandy pith helmet, digging up pyramids or other ancient temples. For David Hayes, there are plenty of adventures in the field without having to stray from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Hayes, monitoring archeologist for the V.I. Water and Power Authority, shared some of those tales Thursday at the Guinea Company Warehouse on Company Street in Christiansted.

The session was hosted by the Friends of the National Park Service.

Hayes decided to have some fun, starting with the title of his presentation – “Railroad Track and Moravian Pottery and Adventures in Replacing Water Lines.”

“With two-thirds of Christiansted slated for new water lines, my job is to recover historical and cultural resources and to protect these resources under the street during this project,” Hayes said.

A packed room of community members listened to his explorations and his involvement with the project, which started on Company Street in 2016 and now covers Christiansted from Queen Street to the Christiansted Bypass and from the Christiansted Cemetery to Hospital Street.

David Hayes's photo of fencing near Moravian Cemetery shows railroad track posts from Estate Bethlehem.
David Hayes’s photo of fencing near Moravian Cemetery shows railroad track posts from Estate Bethlehem.

There’s something like 15,000 feet of the water line to be replaced in Christiansted, Hayes said, and the project is approaching almost 1,000 feet of work done in almost three months.

“Those guys are digging through solid rock most of the time and it’s miserable digging,” he said.

“I was put on this job because it’s a federally funded project, which requires a monitoring archaeologist present,” Hayes said.

He listed three entities that are involved:
– The NPS Christiansted National Historic Site, “They do it right 99.999 percent of the time,” he said;
– The Christiansted Architectural Control District from the 1950s, which attempts to preserve architectural boundaries for political reasons; and
– The Christiansted National Historic District, which keeps historic preservation of houses, merchants and other places.

The three “are laying one on top of the other to ensure that folks are not digging up what they shouldn’t,” he said.

The digging has gone from the Cemetery to Prince Street and back in front of St. Mary’s School, with the expectation that it will be completed before school opens.

Hayes said sewer lines are showing up where they’re not expected and water is being found where it’s not expected, as well. WAPA doesn’t know where these lines are because there were no maps made when they took over from the Department of Public Works in the 1980s.

Phase Two is the actual replacement of four- to six-inch PVC conduits with work being done all over town.

Underground high voltage cables of 13,000 volts run down Prince Street in PVC conduits and, enclosed in concrete, Hayes said.

“There are beautiful brick masonry culverts six-feet high and eight-feet wide on Hospital and Company Streets,” he said. “I think WAPA thought they were just going to bulldoze those culverts,” Hayes said, “But they can’t because this is a federal project. That is why I’m there to monitor what’s going on.”

As one of his findings, Hayes showed the fencing near the Moravian Cemetery, with posts made from the railroad track at Estate Bethlehem when that system was abandoned. Another finding was the Moravian pottery of red clay with green and yellow drawings.

Hayes explained that the digging in front of St. Mary’s School is 100 feet of trench. They had to abandon the trench, fill it and redesign it.

Hayes opened the floor to questions from the audience.

“Is there any idea when the old pipes were installed?” asked someone from the audience. Hayes said they found an old Dura glass bottle from the 1960s near the pipes, so they know that work was done more than once.

Asked about the existing utility poles, Hayes said, the V.I. law says the last utility on the pole will be responsible for it. So the poles are Viya’s responsibility.

“There are a lot of wells along the various guts in Christiansted,” Hayes said. “I remember, as a kid, people would swim at the water facilities at the top of King Cross Street and get little shrimp.”

“With all the delays and workarounds and redesigns, will the first of the system installed be functional even if the rest has not been installed?” asked someone in the audience. “This is a great setup for funding not to be sufficient,” he said.

Hayes replied, “I can assume that they will be functional because the construction crew that’s coming through has tapped into the existing water lines – into that 12-inch line – and put the necessary feeds off the six-inch line to the meters where the meters are going to be replaced, as we come down the streets.”

“It’s an interesting question because I don’t know that WAPA or Department of Planning and Natural Resources – who technically did the grant ever budgeted for my time,” Hayes said. “I have no idea what I’m going to charge. It’s an hourly wage.”

Someone asked, “Did they litter any less 200 years ago than we do today?” Hayes replied that they littered with different materials.

“Today we have plastics and more obvious trash. They had pottery and metals. All the trash was in their backyard. They had no central trash collection on the island. The easiest way to get rid of their trash then was to throw it out their back door. There was no trash removal system until the mid-20th century, so that kind of littering is not uncommon. It happened everywhere.”