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St. John USVI · Attractions

Historic Sites & Ruins

St. John's Sights and Attractions


At first, the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John may seem to you nothing more than a sleepy tropical resort destination, full of greenery and relaxation and beautiful natural vistas. While all this is part of the wonderful experience here, the story isn't over. In fact, St. John is teeming with a rich cultural history which spans the ancient indigenous civilizations through to Christopher Columbus, European settlers and rich benefactors from the United States. Actually, it was the philanthropy of Rockefeller who in part made it possible for the many cultural relics of the island to remain intact for happy vacationers like you to see today.

In order to get the whole picture, you might be intrigued by a tour plan that covers all that can be seen of the St. John's vast history. Going as far back as possible to begin with, one of the most fascinating remnants of the Amerindian inhabitants is the petroglyphs they left behind, carved in stone. Heading down from Centerline Road, you and other adventurous travelers will take the Reef Bay Trail until the path forks. At that point you can either continue straight to get to Reef Bay or, to get to the petroglyphs, turn a right on the conveniently named Petroglyph Trail that will take you a very brief distance on an easy path to these fascinating stone-carved relics. These carvings that are strangely placed on the stones surrounding a watery clearing still tend to present a mystery to archaeologists who study them. They are seeking answers to what went on with the ancient Arawak and Carib tribes that once inhabited the island. Nevertheless, these petroglyphs represent beautifully shaped faces and other patterns made with clean curlicue lines. Most likely, they will appear to be watching you as you take a break by the tranquil pond at the end of the trail. You might even wonder, as do the experts, why these petroglyphs were made and who what they were trying to communicate…or perhaps you might just enjoy their simple beauty before continuing on through the woods.

By following Petroglyph Trail back up the same way you came, you can easily access some of the very interesting sugar mill ruins that can be found up and down the Reef Bay trail. The sugar plantations were first erected by Dutch settlers to St. John in the early part of the eighteenth century. For the more exquisite sugar mill ruins it is definitely worth checking out the Annaberg Historic Trail that will lead you through an hour long hike to an old historical plantation, complete with the remnants of slave quarters, sugar cane storage areas, boiling mechanisms - to distill the sugar - and even a windmill as well as a mill run by horses. But while this is a source of historical enrichment in and of itself, the process of arriving at the Annaberg Historic Trail is actually just as exciting. That's because one of the best ways to get there is by boat. A guided tour will take you along the northern coast of the island, giving you a unique opportunity to view the richer, greener side of St. John. (Interestingly, it is typical of islands in this region to display much more lively vegetation on the northern coasts). So, once on the trail, happy vacationers will be able to break for lunch on picnic tables a little ways down from the ruins. After taking this day trip, it is likely that you will return to the main part of the island knowing a little bit more about the interesting place you are visiting.

Although Christopher Columbus did not leave much behind on St. John for us to remember him by, he is responsible for giving the U.S. and British Virgin Islands their name. This is just another example of the strong U.S. and European influence on St. John. It is this influence which actually seems to have defied the trends of modernization. When you look out over the white sandy beaches, clear water with coral gardens and the extensive canopy of dry forest and greenery that make St. John so beautiful, you can be thankful to the Rockefeller contributions that helped keep about three-fifths of St. John under the protection of the national park system. It is this that helps preserve the natural and the man-made wonders from both the New World and from the Old.

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John Big Hat Walsh

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John "Big Hat" Walsh

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