The US Virgin Islands are more than beaches, spirits and palm trees. The islands have centuries of history and culture to share. Approximately two-thirds of the island of St. John comprises the Virgin Islands National Park. Much of the park is underwater, which you can see via snorkeling; but, there are many interesting hiking trails and historic sites on land, too.
The Annaberg Sugar Mill Plantation Ruins comprise the Annaberg Historic District in the Virgin Islands National Park. Sugar plantations were abundant in this region throughout the 19th century. Though originally grown in India, Columbus brought sugar to the Caribbean, where it thrived. You’ve heard “Cotton was King” in reference to the US South. Well, here “Sugar was King.” In 1758, a Dutch immigrant, Salomon Zeeger, purchased the property and named it Annaberg in honor of his wife Anna. Though its namesake, the Zeegers did not construct the mill, which dates to ca. 1800. An Irish merchant,James Murphy, purchased many adjacent properties, including Annaberg, to create his sugar estate. Sugar product continued on the plantation long after his death in 1808.
In this historic district are ruins of slave cabins, a magass (drying) shed, a windmill tower, a horse mill, an oven, a boiling house, a curing house and overseers’ quarters, a water cistern and a dungeon, a still house, a rum still, a firing trench and an ox pound.
When we visited, we were fortunate that volunteer interpreters were on site to give us a helpful lesson on the boiling house. They also handed us a detailed walking tour, which supplemented the few interpretive panels throughout the site. (My knowledge of the site comes from the NPS walking tour brochure, which is very well done.) We found the site to be in need of additional interpretive signage, especially because the volunteers are only on site for a few months out of the year. Without the brochure and/or the guides, it is much harder to understand the site.
We loved the Annaberg Sugar Mill site for more than the view; the buildings are fascinating. It is a site very different from those throughout the continental United States (though the boiling house reminded me of smelting iron and similar processes, which was a good reference point). Ruins are always intriguing, and historical context and information heightens appreciation and awe of such sites. If you are visiting St. John, the Annaberg Plantation is a must. (A tip: make sure you get the walking tour and read it before you walk around, wondering what the unidentified buildings are.)