St. John Historical Society Celebrating 40th Anniversary Tuesday, March 11


SJHS board members Bruce Schoonover, Robin Swank, Eleanor Gibney, and David Knight, below, introduce the society’s first book, “St. John, Life in Five Quarters,” in 2009. Reggie Callwood of the National Park Service and SJHS member Helen Gjessing, above, work on the restoration effort at Annaberg in 1987.

The St. John Historical Society invites the St. John community to celebrate its 40th anniversary at a party at the Battery on Tuesday, March 11, at 5 p.m. The event will feature catered food and drinks and a slideshow of St. John and Historical Society images. A video entitled “Flight to Freedom: Hans Jonathan,” which follows the quest of a modern-day Icelandic family to discover the true story of their enslaved Crucian ancestor, will be shown, along with a presentation by V.I. historian and SJHS board member George Tyson. All are welcome to attend. Non-members are asked to consider making a donation at the party.

The SJHS began in February 1974 with a meeting of 19 residents at the V.I. National Park headquarters at the Creek in Cruz Bay. The goals and objectives of the SJHS were laid out that day, and have remained largely unchanged since.

SJHS volunteers have played a major role in promoting and preserving the island’s unique history and cultural heritage throughout the society’s 40 years. The clearing and stabilization of the ruins of the Annaberg Country School was one of the first projects undertaken by the society, and stewardship of the site continues to remain a high priority for the SJHS, which completed its annual clearing of the school’s ruins on February 15.

The society was instrumental in the volunteer staffing of a museum at the Cruz Bay Battery, and later, at the Elaine I. Sprauve Library, in the 1980s. SJHS volunteers have left their mark across the island, from a sundial with an engraved plaque that was donated to the Emmaus Moravian Church, to the replacement of an illegible red stone plaque commemorating the construction of the Cruz Bay Battery with a new bronze plaque and the replacement of cannon mounts, also at the Battery.

Through the efforts of SJHS volunteers, the ruins of the Annaberg slave village were restored; the Enighed cemetery and the Elaine I. Sprauve Library were cleaned up and planted with inkberry trees, oleander, and ground orchids; and the oldest marked grave in the Cruz Bay Cemetery, where Lucretia Virginia Howard Minor rests, was restored.

The society preserved island culture with its place names project, where more than 20 local culture bearers helped to extensively map the Coral Bay and East End quarters with vernacular place names of the early 1900s. In October 2009, the SJHS published its first book, “St. John, Life in Five Quarters,” a compilation of 66 articles and more than 160 historical pictures, illustrations, and graphics, further demonstrating the society’s commitment to be a strong advocate for the presentation and dissemination of St. John history.

After entering into a 99-year lease with the St. John Community Foundation for land on the historic Bellevue Estate on Gifft Hill Road in 2013, the society plans to construct an accessible climate-controlled archive, library, and research space for the non-profit’s ever-growing collections, as well as a modest museum and exhibit area in which to share them.

Willis, who joined the board for the first time in 2013, would like to ensure continued preservation of the island’s history for decades to come by educating St. John youth.

“One of my goals is to encourage new writers, new storytellers, new photographers, new genealogists, new archaeologists, and new archivists to actively pursue our day to day history, while we impress on them the wonder of what came before,” said Willis. “Young people’s perspective is important, and our organization will be stronger when we get more of our young people to join us.”

The SJHS board of directors extends sincere thanks to the entire SJHS membership and all of the society’s loyal contributors and friends, both past and present. It is because of their support, and the support of the St. John community, that the St. John Historical Society has remained the active and enduring organization that it is today.

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