Charlotte Amalie beckons you to stroll along her cobble stone alleyways, climb her streets of steps, admire antique West Indian furnishings in historic homes and explore 17th century Danish fortifications. Founded in 1681 by Danish settlers, it contains a wealth of buildings that provide a glimpse into colonial life. It is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places as an area of particular historic interest. Often referred to as Downtown or just Town, Charlotte Amalie today is a bustling center for government, schools, offices, shopping and residences! Visit old and new Charlotte Amalie; see the evolution from a colonial trading post to one of the busiest duty free ports in the Caribbean! Here is a selection of sites you might visit.
The two-story Legislature Building houses the offices of the Virgin Islands Legislature. The original building was a wooden structure erected in 1828 as barracks for Danish police. The present building is a reconstruction and was completed in 1874. Roman numerals MDCCCLXXIV and the Danish coat-of-arms crest can be seen on the building. In 1917, the ceremonies transferring ownership of the Danish West Indies to the United States were held in the courtyard. Between 1917 and 1930 it served as barracks for the U.S. Marine Corps and then as a public school. In 1956 it was restored and occupied by the Legislature and the Department of Social Welfare. From about 1970 to present time the building has served solely as the Legislature.
Fort Christian, the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands, was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1977. The imposing fort with walls 3 to 6 feet thick was built between 1672 and 1680. It served as the administrative center of the island, the residence of the first Governors and the official place of worship. Between 1724 and 1735 it was expanded and continued to function as a government building. By the late 1800s the role shifted. The upper level of the fort served as the islands’ prison from 1874-1983! Fort Christian Museum was established in 1971 in the downstairs area of the fort with exhibits of old photos, antique furniture and artifacts. The fort has been closed since 2005 due to a stalled renovation project.
Emancipation Park was named in commemoration of the July 3rd, 1848 emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies. On the west side of the park is a conch blower statue which also commemorates emancipation; and a reproduction of the Liberty Bell (every U.S. state and territory has a copy of the Bell). A bust of Denmark’s King Christian IX is situated in the middle of the park. Adjacent to the north side is Grand Galleria; opened in 1840 as the Commercial Hotel and Coffee House. In its heyday the Hotel was the accommodation of distinguished and well-to-do visitors. It remained a hotel until 1975. Renamed Grand Galleria in 2000, it currently houses shops and restaurants.
The Lutheran Church is identifiable by its pretty yellow-gold color and its large 'welcoming arms' staircase. The initial congregation was founded in 1666 by Danish minister Kjeld Jensen who arrived on St. Thomas on an expedition to colonize the island. The first services were held in homes of planters and soldiers, and later in the confines of Fort Christian. The original sanctuary opened in 1793. It replaced two earlier buildings that were destroyed by fire. It was refurbished in 1826 and again in 1870. The church is still in use today. It is the oldest church building on St. Thomas and the second oldest Lutheran Church building in the Western Hemisphere.
The St. Thomas Historical Trust’s mission is to identify, protect, and preserve the historical identity, structures, sites and cultural heritage of St. Thomas through education, advocacy and promotion. Their Mini-Museum has five rooms with antique furnishings, artifacts and old photos. Volunteer guides provide information on the items, and on island history. Open Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm. The entrance is through a gated alley; use the buzzer by the gate to ring the museum for entry. The Historical Trust hosts events like traditional broom making, furniture making and walking tours. Outside the Mini-Museum is Roosevelt Park renamed in 1945 in honor of a visit by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Government House is a neoclassical, gracious 3 story white building with beautifully intricate ironwork along the balconies. Built between 1865 and 1867, it is a perfect example of the grandeur of official buildings during Danish colonial time. You can admire it from the outside and visit the lobby which contains: display boards of the islands’ governors including Danish, Naval and Civilian; two small paintings by renowned Impressionist artist, Camille Pissarro; and three murals by Italian-American artist Peppino Margravite. Visitors must check in with the security officer at the entrance. Open 8am-5pm on weekdays, closed on holidays.
Charlotte Amalie is unique for step streets, or frigangs as the Danes called them. These steps were built in the mid 1700s. Dozens of step streets cut through nearly all the hills rising from the Charlotte Amalie harbor area; the 99 steps are the most popular. They are likely the most photographed as well; the picturesque stairway has colorful flowers on either side making it an easy choice for a photo. The bricks used in the steps were brought from Denmark as ballast in the hulls of sailing ships. The 99 steps original name was Store Taarne Gade which means Greater Tower Street. The 99 steps are actually 103 steps.
The Three Queens fountain was unveiled in 2005 and commemorates three historically important women: Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Josiah. These women led a successful 1878 insurrection against the Danish Government demanding improved working and living conditions, and better wages. The demonstration is known as the “Fireburn”. The women wear clothing typical of the mid-1800’s, long dresses, with a long sleeved blouse and an apron. They carry in their hands: a lantern, a harvesting tool and flambeaux (torch). The sculpture was made by American artist Richard Hallier.
Blackbeard’s Castle and five historic townhouses are part of a walking tour. While the name references pirate Blackbeard the structure is actually the remains of Skytsborg, built around 1674-1680 as a watch tower for guarding Charlotte Amalie. The historic homes included are: Villa Notman, Britannia House and Haagensen House. Each furnished with beautiful antiques which allow you to imagine life of the prosperous merchant class that owned these homes. The Bankhus house is home to the Camille Pisarro Fine Antique Gallery. And the fifth house, Hotel 1829 was constructed between 1829 and 1831 as a townhouse. An admission/tour fee is charged.
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