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Thursday, June 13, 2024


Sept. 22, 2001 — The National Park Service has officially expanded its holdings on St. Croix with the recent closing of two real estate deals.
The first deal closed on Sept. 14 and includes the $800,000 purchase of the historic Post Office building in downtown Christiansted. The second is the acquisition of 53 acres for $1.05 million in the Salt River National Park and Ecological Reserve.
Two and a half years ago the U.S. Postal Service announced it was leaving the 250-year-old Danish West Indies & Guinea Co. warehouse building that had housed the Christiansted Post Office for some 45 years. The move was spurred by the Postal Service’s need to modernize and expand its downtown location.
The Park Service, owner of the Christiansted National Historic Site on which the building sits, plans to turn the structure into a museum dedicated to the African slave trade.
Initially, the Postal Service was asking $1.2 million for the building, which needs millions of dollars worth of renovation. After a lengthy back-and-forth in which the Park Service wanted a no-cost transfer of the building, the parties settled on the $800,000 figure.
"It’s been a two-and-a-half-year struggle," said Joel Tutein, superintendent of the Park Service units on St. Croix.
The building, which badly needs a paint job and other exterior work, hasn’t had any significant upkeep in more than a decade, Tutein said. The big costs, however, will come when the Park Service begins renovation. Tutein estimates that will run between $9 million and $11 million.
"I should have enough money next year to do some cosmetic work, like painting the building and replacing missing shutters," he said. "We’re not going to leave it as the eyesore it is now."
The big-ticket renovation work like replacing the roof and shoring up walls will take a little more time to fund.
"Realistically, we’re looking at 2003 to at least have funding appropriated," Tutein said. Work could be completed and the museum opened by 2006.
The post office will remain, rent-free, in the old building until Nov. 1, when it will move to its new location, a block up Company Street.
The management plan for the Christiansted National Historic Site, which includes Fort Christiansvaern and the Scale House, Customs House and Steeple Building, calls for the Park Service to tell the story of St. Croix between 1735 and 1917, when the Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark.
So far, Tutein said, military, religious and trade histories have been interpreted, but not that of the 50,000 enslaved Africans imported to St. Croix and sold on the stairs of the Danish West Indies & Guinea Co. warehouse building, which now houses the post office. The building is the largest former slave-trade facility now under the U.S. flag, according to Tutein, who said it has "great historical and cultural significance to the people of the Virgin Islands, the United States and especially citizens of African-American ancestry and heritage."
Tutein said he expects a bit of disagreement and debate when the Park Service takes public input on how to develop the museum, which will include a genealogical center.
"What we hope to do is stimulate conversation and debate on the slave trade of the Danish West Indies," he said. "We decided to tell a story that needs to be told."
The Salt River National Park and Ecological Reserve
The Park Service's other acquisition comprises 53 acres of land at the northeastern opening of Salt River Bay and a portion of Estate Judith’s Fancy.
The $1.05 million purchase completes a 74-acre tract that contains the remnants of an old hotel. Some 21 acres was purchased from Texas-based owners almost a year ago for $450,000.
The Salt River National Park and Ecological Reserve is co-managed by the Park Service and the V.I. government and consists of 600 acres of submerged land and 312 acres of land adjacent to Salt River Bay. The V.I. government owns about 5o acres in the area, including the five-acre Columbus Landing site. Including past purchases, the Park Service now owns approximately 205 acres.
The remaining acreage consists of small individual tracts, including the plot on which the Salt River Marina is located.
The purchases, Tutein said, were made under the Land Protection Plan that was developed by the St. Croix Park Service unit to assure the protection of natural, cultural and other significant resources in the park, Tutein said. The park was established by former President George Bush.

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