St. Croix
The Great Houses
Part 1

Lavish reminders of the island's once incredibly rich past.

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St. Croix has at times been pre-eminent among the U.S Virgin Islands, particularly during the days of sugar cane.

Just how important sugar was to the local economy is still clearly evident: the island is dotted with the ruins and restorations of more than 100 old sugar mills and great houses.

The islands were so wealthy mere militiamen wore epaulets of gold, an ostentation forbidden in Denmark because such elaborate ornamentation might drain the country's treasury.

Although the Danes owned St. Croix and offered tax concessions to anyone who would come to raise sugar cane or cotton, mostly British, Dutch and Portuguese took up the offer.

By 1800, 375 different estates were growing sugar cane, cotton, tobacco and indigo. Because the English controlled the economy by producing most of the sugar cane and rum, English became the everyday language on this Danish island.

That helps explain why some of the old estate names still used today--Good Hope, Judith's Fancy--are in English, not Danish. I can't help wondering what the owner of Slob Estate was really like. Was that his name or his manner?

After the slaves were emancipated, labor costs made growing cane unprofitable. Owners of the big sugar plantations began abandoning their estates, the island's population dwindled and the economy went into a severe slump. St. Croix has never kept up with the far more prosperous St. Thomas .

When cane was king, St. Croix had 250 plantations working the island. Today, many of the old great houses have been restored and turned into private homes. The few estates open to the public provide interesting walks.

Estate Whim Plantation Museum : The Whim Estate, just west of Frederiksted, is the finest plantation great house still surviving. The oval-shaped, high-ceilinged great house made of rock and coral and banded together with a mortar of sugar molasses and seashells has been carefully restored and is furnished with period antiques throughout.

Architecturally unique, it even has a small dry moat around the base, used not for defense but to help ventilate and light the basement where the provisions for slaves were once held.

Besides the restored cook house, mills and a gift shop, the Whim Estate has the island's most photogenic windmill, complete with giant white blades, something you rarely see on any of the islands. Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 340-772-0598.

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