Monday, April 02, 2007

Blog 3-30-07
Hello readers,
This is your friendly, neighborhood Cultural Resources Management Team tuning in from the Virgin Islands National Park. Today, we visited Hassel Island again, this time with two historic site stabilization experts from San Juan named Colon and Jose (see picture #1). They came to assess the Creque Marine Railway winch house and boy, do we have our work cut out for us! Our first concern is to stabilize the structure and prevent further degradation (or its collapse!) before historic reconstruction can begin. One simple step that can drastically improve the structure’s solidity is to recreate the wooden beams that supported the second story. This will connect the walls together as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries and ideally prevent any collapses from occurring. From there, new and some old materials such as brick and mortar will be needed to patch the walls themselves, and we must remove the vegetation and trash to provide a clear path to the winch house before the work can proceed. The second phase of this project would be a new roof for further stabilization of the structure as well as to help preserve the artifacts housed within, such as the boilers and the flywheel. Colon and Jose will draw up a budget for both the stabilization and historic reconstruction phases of this project and hopefully we will have their help in seeing the project through its completion.

We also brought Professor of History Nicholas Jensen from the University of Copenhagen, Professor of Archaeology Pia Bennike, and her three graduate students on our trip to Hassel Island (see picture #1). While Colon and Jose studied the structure, Ken led us over to the western shore of the island to search for the leprosarium in use in the 1800’s (ceramic fragments identified on the surface attest to this date). A leprosarium is a quarantined hospital for people afflicted with leprosy. In the yellow fever outbreak of 1867, the hospital was also used to house yellow fever victims. Professor Pia is conducting an excavation of a cemetery on St. Croix and was interested in the cemeteries associated with this historic site. Unfortunately, we did not find any cemeteries in our search. Ken believes the dead were most likely buried over on the mainland in Charlotte Amalie. We did, however find a cistern (see picture #2) associated with a low lying stone wall. Ken believes this is most likely the remnants of the front wall of the hospital, and that the rest of the structure would have been made of wood. Also, when on our trek, we found a lot of shell refuse indicative of a large Taino site. Further investigations into this area of Hassel Island encompassing both the prehistoric site and the leprosarium would no doubt prove to be very interesting and informative.

The Team is planning some excursions into the bush next week to find more lost plantations, so stay tuned and we’ll be back:)

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