Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day

Since a good portion of the cultural resources of the Virgin Islands National Park are underwater, diving is an important part of our work. Both Ken and Susanna are on the dive team and participated in a dive recertification for the National Park most of the week. On Tuesday, the dive team traveled to St. Thomas to visit the hyperbaric chamber and attend lectures on hyperbaric medicine. The highlight of the day (besides docking next to mega cruise ships in the harbor) was a ride in the hyperbaric chamber down to 60”ft for about ten minutes. If the scenario was not hypothetical, and a diver was suffering from the bends, it would take at least 245 minutes at various depths to properly decompress the patient. The National Park Service is the oldest civilian diving organization in the government and because of the extensive safety protocol and rigorous training schedules, the park has never suffered a loss in a diving accident. Yesterday, the dive team completed a 2700m swim in less than 18 minutes and went through a serious of practices including “ditching” all the gear underwater and putting it back on, rescue breathing and map and compass work. This week fulfills part of the 24hr/year requirements for dive team members.

In addition to all the diving, Ken met with a historic mason, Edwin Colon, from the San Juan National Historic Site to discuss the repair of the Lameshur Ruins. The Lameshur Plantation was originally four plantations laid out during the 1720’s. These estates were eventually consolidated into a single unit of production by 1740, producing mostly cotton. Between 1773 and 1784 some sugar cane was cultivated and the painting from this period shows that most of the acreage had been cleared. Sugar production was discontinued after 1858 and Lameshur transitioned into raising stock. The first US Coast and Geodetic Survey shows that in 1919, most of the land was planted in either fruit, bay trees or grass pasture for the large herd of cattle. Cattle farming and bay leaf harvesting ceased in the early 1950’s and most of the plantation buildings have fallen into various stages of ruin. Interestingly, the presence of lime trees on the grounds shed light on the name “Lameshur.” According the small booklet, “Some True Tales and Legends about Caneel Bay and Trunk Bay, and a hundred and on other places on St. John,” compiled by Charlotte Dean Stark in 1960, The Geographic Dictionary says the name signifies Lemon Shore or Lime Shore. Map makers of the old days, who seem to have found the name incredible, changed it to La Masure, French for “The ruin.” Through this series of mistaken pronunciations and etymologies, it became Lameshur on the US map of 1934.

Other than that, Mick is off island for a couple of weeks of vacation, Molly is busy photographing the collection such as this ceremonial celt, and a new intern, Katie, from the University of the Virgin Islands just signed on to help us out a couple of days a week. After such a busy week everyone is looking forward to the three day holiday weekend and participating in the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park Beach-to-Beach PowerSwim. Good luck to all the swimmers!

Friday, May 19, 2006

America Hill

My name is Molly Nook. Today was the first day of my month long internship with archeologist Ken Wild. My background is in photography which will be utilized these next few weeks photographing the ruins and artifacts. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Ken and the NPS and to learn as much as I can about archeology and the rich local history.

Today was quite an exciting first day. After meeting at Cinnamon Bay Lab to review some of the artifacts on display, Ken, Susanna, Mick and I hiked the half hour trail through Bay Rum trees and Teyer Palms and up to the America Hill Estate. There we photographed the Main House, the Cookhouse, Cistern, Servant’s Quarters and Yardwall. We also recorded measurements and data for the structures that are believed to date back to the early 18th century. America Hill is such a beautiful site, with the Estate house’s neoclassical detailing, weathered coral lime plaster facade and gorgeous view of Maho Bay. On a clear day you can see over Tortola.

Because of it’s complex and rich history, America Hill will be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Within the nomination it is noted that, “periods of ownership in the 1850’s-1860’s remain remarkably intact, and provides a vivid picture of life on St. John Plantation. In February, 1863, for example, the Estate was supplied with 5 Westfalia Hams, 4 tins Green peas, 6 tins carrots, a dozen quarts Claret, 1 bottle Anchovies, 1 bottle capers, 1 bottle white pepper and ½ doz. small bottles Matteo Cologne. In the same month, they received, 1 white cotton twill, 32 yards, white Shirtings ‘francais’, ½ dozen white shirts, 1/3 dozen Duck Pants, 1 black silk Parasol. The following month: One Panama Hat $6; One felt Ditto $3; One gray spring hat $3’ a Horse Whip 50cents and One box fine Domino $1.25.”

Finally, “over a seven month period in 1863, the estate received entertainment: 11 periodicals including Punch, Illustrated Times and London News; novels including Trolloppe’s Barchester Towers, Thackery’s Philip, Hugo’s Les Miserables, Macauley’s History of England and a book titled Manufacture of Liquors.”

America Hill has a significant flagpole and on April 5, 1917, Danish Flag was lowered and replaced with the American Flag. The estate gradually fell into decline, following hurricanes. As you wander around the estate today, you can’t help but wonder if the old can on the ground is from those green peas or if the 20th century wine bottle wasn’t left over from rambunctious visitors when America Hill ran as a guesthouse. There is a legend that the property was a base for bootlegged liquor and smuggling in the 1930’s yet by the 1940’s, the America Hill Greathouse was in ruins. Hurricane Hugo finally took the remains of the roof off and collapsed the principal floor into the basement. The America Hill site is now closed to visitors due to the unstable ruins.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


David Kiphuth is an artist from New York who has done freehand illustrations of archaeological objects for many publications, including Irving Rouse's "The Taino's, Rise and Decline of the People who Greeted Columbus," the preemiment text on Caribbean archaeology. While Ken and Mick were at the Society of American Archaeologists Conference in San Juan the other week, attending lectures which praised the accomplishment of Rouse and mourned his passing earlier this year, David was on St. John graciously volunteering his time and talent to the archaeology program. For two days he and his daughter Allie drew the artifacts recently aquired from Julia Condit. Illustrations of artifacts are useful because drawings can bring out characteristics and define features, dimensions, size which photographs are not able to capture. We would like to thank David and his family for their expertise and hope to see them again.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Rum tester used for Rum Production at Reef Bay Plantation, catalogued in 1960.

Mick and Susanna are conducting the annual Random Sample and Accession Inventory this week. Out of a total of 15,000 catalogued artifacts, we sample 202 and confirm that the object is found, that the location is correct and if all associated records are in order. As well, we confirm that all 254 Accessions are located. This inventory gives us a chance to go through all the storage cabinets and to see some artifacts that are rarely viewed. An example from the collection here includes the first prehistoric artifact in our collection, a stone celt, and the first historic artifact, a glass rum tester. A fine sampling of the islands history! We also will inventory the Natural History collection, including bugs, coral, plants and mammals. This should take us the entire week so that by the time Ken gets back from the UNESCO conference on Rock Art in Guadalupe, we will get back to digging at Cinnamon Bay. Polished green stone celt, composed of jadeite, surrounded principally by albite, triangular in shape, collected from Reef Bay area, below the petroglyphs, by David Bratsch, c. 1958.