History speaks in stone

Buildings and streets have tales to tell

thumb: caneelsugarruin

Benjamin Boone

Architecture in the West Indies has many reminders of of European cultures from hundreds of years ago. Some buildings are crumbling on back streets with trails of wandering ivy creeping on their cracked stucco. Others have been restored by architectural historians and stone masons.

Restoration on the islands is an ongoing effort. Fredriksted and Christiansted in St.Croix, were port towns in disrepair. Many buildings were dilapidated. Now tourists patter along on manicured foot paths and in cool shady alleys.

The entire town of Frederiksted is on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

The recently resored waterfront is worth seeing.

Annaberg Plantation on St. John, originally built on the side of a hill by the sea, still provides a window to the past,where slaves lugged huge stacks of ballast stone up from the ships. The ruins were rebuilt with mortars made of molasses and lime stone.

On St. Thomas you can see a trail of restoration from a stairway called the Ninety-Nine Stepsto Government House, a neo-classical building with barreled arches, Danish louvered shutters and a courtyard on a cliff.

Architectural historians revive times' wrath by employing the same building process used two hundred years ago.

Modern mortars like cement are more dense, less porous and don't mix well with the old ballast and fossilized shell. This is why a mortar's milk, actually made of molasses and milk, is still used in restoration, maintaining the integrity of West Indian architecture.

Benjamin Boone writes about nature and island folklore.

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