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ST. THOMAS

Having served as a Dano-Norwegian defense post, town center, government building, governor’s residence, police center and a jail, Fort Christian has an illustrious history. Built between 1672 – 1680 and named for King Christian V, it is the oldest standing structure in USVI. Located on the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie opposite the Emancipation Garden, Fort Christian offers plenty for visitors to see just beyond its lovely red brick facade accented with diamond-shaped bastions. A striking Victorian clock tower was added during an expansion in 1874. A National Historic Landmark since 1977, Fort Christian is home to the St. Thomas Museum, which features period artifacts and artwork.

If you’re looking for some fun physical activity to go along with your history lesson, Charlotte Amalie’s 99 Steps on Government Hill fills the bill. Built in the 18th century using bricks brought over from Denmark in the hulls of sailing ships, the steps are lined with colorful flowers and palm trees. If you count as you’re climbing, you’ll discover that there are actually 103, not 99, steps. Blackbeard’s Castle, one of the island’s three National Historic Landmarks, is your reward for making it to the top of the 99 Steps. A one-time lookout for the Danish to spot enemy ships, the watchtower was built in 1679. Although it’s closed for renovation, Blackbeard’s Castle offers one of the island’s best viewing spots. After you catch your breath, stroll over to the nearby Government House. Serving as the offices for USVI’s governor, the beautiful 17th-century neoclassical building features delicate white ironwork on the outside and art by Impressionist master and St. Thomas native Camille Pissarro inside.

As the second-oldest synagogue still standing in the Western Hemisphere, St. Thomas Synagogue has deep roots on the island and beyond. Having endured its own hardships since it was first constructed in 1803 (including three fires), it is a symbol of resilience, down to its sand-covered floors that represent the courage of Sephardic Jewish ancestors. In the back foyer, the Weibel Memorial Museum showcases images, artifacts and plaques commemorating the history of the island’s Jewish community. On display in the synagogue is a powerful reminder of the Holocaust, the Memorial Czech Scroll, which was found by the Allied troops after the Nazis lost the war. Attend Shabbat services, sign up for a tour or visit the gift shop for items made exclusively by members of the congregation.

The St. Thomas Historical Trust passionately embraces its mission to preserve the history, sites and culture of St. Thomas. At the St. Thomas Historical Trust Museum, make an appointment in advance to view a charming collection of West Indian art and antiques, including artifacts from shipwrecks in the nearby harbor. The museum also offers its popular downtown Charlotte Amalie Walking Tour. If you prefer your history with a side of adventure that includes a short boat ride, moderate hiking and epic views, opt for the 1- to 2-hour Hassel Island Tour. A 135-acre island located in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, Hassel Island features three major sites: The Garrison House, Prince Frederick’s Battery and Bowell’s Battery and Signal Station.

ST. CROIX

One of the best-preserved colonial forts in the Caribbean, Fort Christiansvaern features seven acres in which to explore the island’s intriguing history. Built in a star shape around a small courtyard, the fort’s yellow-hued walls offer a beautiful contrast to the nearby sparkling blue ocean. Part of the Christiansted National Historic Site and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Fort Christiansvaern was built in 1749. It once served as the focal point of the Danish presence and control of the island, and as a courthouse and prison. Today, it features exhibits on the history of Christiansted and life on St. Croix. Explore on your own or sign up for a guided tour.

With so much to see and do on the 12 acres that comprise Estate Whim Museum, it’s hard to know where to start. Located on the west end of the island, this fascinating historic site features a restored windmill, former slave quarters and the ruins of a sugar factory, all surrounded by a lush landscape. Additionally, there’s a colonial-era great house filled with furnished rooms containing original artwork and beautifully restored historic items. The time travel adventure continues at the Living Museum, which offers a deep dive into Crucian folklife with live demos by locals on cooking, music, dancing and conch shell blowing. Rotating cultural exhibits provide further insight into this island’s rich culture and history.

Originally built in the mid-18th century to defend the island against pirates, Fort Frederiksted has been the site of many important historic events, including an emancipation revolt, a labor riot and the ceremonies transferring the Virgin Islands to the United States in 1917. It later functioned as a police station, jail, fire department, library and telephone exchange. Fort Frederiksted was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. Today, the crimson-hued Danish masonry fort, located on the western end of St. Croix overlooking a bay, is home to a museum and art gallery offering a glimpse of times gone by. Learn about the fort, as well the island, with a leisurely self-guided tour.

Step into the Apothecary Hall Museum and you might think you’ve accessed a wonderful wrinkle in time. Located in the heart of Christiansted, this one-of-a-kind museum is set inside a 19th-century pharmacy that’s been meticulously restored. Ornate apothecary bottles, herbal medicines resting in drawers and antique pharmacy equipment are on view. Established in 1820 by a Danish pharmacist who came to the island to prepare medicines for those stationed at the miliary garrison, the pharmacy went on to serve St. Croix for more than 140 years. In 1970, its last owner donated his vintage drug jars and pharmaceutical equipment to the St. Croix Landmarks Society.

ST. JOHN

Established in 1722, the Annaberg Plantation is one of the islands’ best existing examples of Danish Colonial-era industrial agriculture. It offers a deep peek into the oppression and culture of the enslaved people who worked and lived here. The ruins of the one-time operating sugar plantation include the enslaved laborers’ village and factory site, as well as an animal mill, windmill and guardhouse. Run by the National Park Service, its Cruz Bay Visitor Center offers regular ranger-led tours of the Annaberg Plantation.

The Cinnamon Bay Plantation combines an easy-to-navigate .5-mile loop trail that passes by the fascinating ruins of the former sugar plantation. Built in 1717, Cinnamon Bay Plantation was one of the island’s earliest sugar, molasses and rum plantations. The 300-acre property includes the ruins of the factory, great house and slave quarters. For insight into the sugar-making process, visit the remnants of the horse mill and boiling house where the chimney of the rum still stands tall. Signs posted along the way tell the history of the factory, as well as plants you’ll see. In 1978 the land, which is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World occurred on St. John. The Catherineberg Estate, also known as the Hammer Farm, served as the headquarters for the African slaves who took over the island for six months in 1773. Today, this former sugar and rum factory is known as the Catherineberg Ruins. Located within Virgin Islands National Park, this historic site includes the ruins of an impressive windmill tower that’s almost four stories tall, a factory, still, horse mill and a stable.

Formerly a 1700s plantation called Dennis Bay, Peace Hill is renowned for its spectacular sunsets and peaceful setting. Situated off North Shore Road (just a 10-minute car ride from Cruz Bay), the plantation ruins that feature a dramatic stone windmill are accessed by a short, easy hike. On Sundays, the relaxing vibes get a boost with free sunset meditation sessions organized by Unity of St. John Virgin Islands, starting at 5:45 p.m.

Learn more about USVI’s historic sites and attractions.

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