Historic Trust begins restoration of crumbling Bred Gade step street
Published: October 7, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas Historic Trust recently began the restoration of the Bred Gade step street, but more needs to be done, according to preservationists, to save the network of pedestrian walkways in downtown Charlotte Amalie that date from the late 1700s.
The crumbling, neglected step streets wind through the three main quarters and originally were built by the Danes after city planners tried to impose a grid design that did not account for the island's steep hills, according to Trevor Milner, chairman of the trust's Step Street Restoration Committee.
A fit person can walk from Government House all the way to Savan using the step streets, but right now some are in such bad repair that they resemble relics more than roads.
Losing the step streets means not only sacrificing the walkability of the congested, high-traffic area, but also a key route to the past, Milner said. Famous Virgin Islanders who lived directly off step streets include Enid Baa and Addelita Cancryn. Camille Pissarro used them to go back and forth from what is now known as the Petit-Sturm House.
With a $20,000 grant from the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office, Milner contracted My Brother's Workshop earlier this year to begin restoration of the Bred Gade step street, at the intersection of Nye Gade and Bred Gade. The vines and brush have been cleared away, some demolition has been done on non-original concrete, and "blue biche" rock has been ordered. The biche is a local rock the Danes originally used to lay down many of the step streets, Milner said.
"At the trust, we are doing our part in that we recognize the gem that is our heritage, and we are trying to dust the dirt off, clean it up and polish it," Milner said.
The $20,000 grant supports the restoration of about half of the Bred Gade step street, Milner said. He hopes that by the time the lower portion is complete more funding will come through, he said.
Restoring all the step streets - also called strades - would take an uncalculated amount of time and money, according to Ronald Lockhart, president of the St. Thomas Historic Trust. If the trust does not find people to sponsor its step street restoration projects or to adopt individual step streets, they will become rubble, he said.
"You have to look at step streets in the context of the whole town. These were streets that people used and they took a lot of pride in. They were beautiful. They had little design elements, they were well taken care of," Milner said. Even as late as the 1940s and 1950s, people who lived on either side of a step street competed over whose garden was more beautiful, Milner said.
Many of the step streets fall within the Savan and Garden Street enterprise zones, where blight and crime have spurred community members to come together in meetings hosted by the V.I. Economic Development Authority to talk about civic improvements that could further economic development.
Lockhart said the Historical Trust's vision to restore step streets aligns very well with spurring economic development in the depressed historic neighborhoods. At a series of charrettes in early May, Garden Street residents proposed that more small businesses, such as bakeries, open in the area, but they also complained about the lack of parking and traffic congestion.
"At the bottom of the steps on Bred Gade, there used to be several grocery stores right on the corner. Now there are no longer businesses," Lockhart said. "The people walk up and down the stairs anyway, but hopefully more people will come and use the stairs and businesses will come back."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.