New exhibit looks at Christiansted and its people
Published: August 21, 2013
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ST. CROIX - The Christiansted National Historic Site opened its new exhibit about Christiansted and the history of its neighborhoods Tuesday, bringing memories alive and inspiring more preservation of the island's history.
Residents from Gallows Bay, Free Gut and Hillside were given the first view of the exhibit, which is on the second floor at Fort Christianvaern and is hosted by the National Parks Service.
Park Service curator David Goldstein said the project of gathering the important historic facts, pictures and people from the founding neighborhoods of Christiansted took a lot of coordination and was a gargantuan task, but the willingness of everyone involved to work together made it easier.
Goldstein said the project highlights the fusion of the people who had been slaves and then moved into the surrounding areas and began to organize their communities.
"There is a strong connection and bond between the fort and the past communities as a whole," Goldstein said. "This project and all the people it has brought together has strengthened that."
Melba Douté Charles was one of dozens of people who were excited for the opening of the exhibit and turned out for the opening Tuesday. Charles grew up in Free Gut and later moved to East Street, where she was able to enjoy many of the advantages of the early days in the town. She said she remembers playing as a child near the reservoir on Hill Street and catching small crayfish.
"The town was lush and had an abundance to eat and drink," she said. "We used to fish a lot and pick all types of fruits, and water was plentiful."
Charles said coming into the exhibit room on Tuesday, brought back a lot of memories.
"I remember a lot from those days, and I tell my children and my grandchildren the stories," she said. "Being able to know about your history it important, and the only way they would know is if I told them."
Charles said the exhibit showed pictures of some of the landmarks she remembers, such as London Bridge, family homes that are now destroyed or dilapidated and the beautiful bay side area.
"The town has really changed a lot, some for the better and some for worse," she said. "There must always be change, I understand that, but there should have been more preservation."
Hans Larsen has been living in Gallows Bay since 1947 and said that preservation of the historic landmarks and of the island's history on a whole, should have played a bigger part in the development of the community. Larsen said the island and its people have gone through a tremendous amount of struggles over the years and he has seen a lot of it.
"I've been down in Bethlehem Sugar Factory during marches with the country people, but our struggles and our accomplishments were never well-documented, and it is time for that to change," he said. "I love the exhibit because it brings some sort of documentation and brings the history alive, but we need to have more."
Park Superintendant Joel Tutien said he was happy that the Park Service was able to collaborate with historian Elizabeth Rezende in putting the exhibit together. He said the Park Service had never really been embraced by the community as such and they are now trying to tie back the culture and history that link the two.
The exhibit will be open to the public through September 2014, and Goldstein encouraged residents and visitors to come and see the end product of the extensive work and research that was done.
He said the Christiansted National Historic Site is only one cornerstone of the community and the need to bring together the other facets, the people, their neighborhoods and their stories inspired the exhibit.
"Over the past 18 months, we brought together several researchers, students, residents, business owners, artists and park rangers from here and abroad to present this information to the public," he said. "Christiansted's history is unique and complex, deserving of all means of preservation."
Tours of Gallows Bay and Free Gut are available by appointment through the Eastern National bookstore by calling 719-4091.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.