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Not for Profit: St. Thomas Historical Trust

Nov. 9, 2008 — Shortly before Christmas in December 1965, a dozen dedicated preservationists decided to give St. Thomas a present it would remember: an organization to protect and preserve the island's rich heritage.
Many of the original dozen have become history themselves, including architect Frederick Gjessing, artist Ira Smith, community activist Gertrude Dudley and historian Isidor Paiewonsky. But their spirit is alive today. The organization is a vibrant part of the community, with a museum of its own and an exciting new Hassel Island restoration project.
The St. Thomas Historical Trust Museum opened in 2006 in Royal Dane Mall in Charlotte Amalie, in what used to be Beretta Center. The location, itself a part of downtown St. Thomas history, serves the museum well. The space was donated by Jim Armour of Armour Enterprises.
Trust president Ronnie Lockhart is literally part and parcel of local history.
"I was raised in the Crystal Palace on Synagogue Hill above town," he says. The building, which Lockhart calls a "hearty survivor of St. Thomas's golden age," has a rich history itself. It is so named because it was the first house on St. Thomas to be fitted with glass sash windows.
Lockhart has been Trust president for about two years.
"It's a full-time job," he remarks, but one which he handily manages, along with running the Crystal Palace Bed and Breakfast.
The mission of the Trust. a private not-for-profit entity, is to identify, protect and preserve the historical identity, structures, sites and cultural heritage of St. Thomas through education, advocacy and promotion.
"It is not to be confused with the government Historic Preservation Commission, which oversees compliance with federal and local laws," Lockhart says. "We have no authority to enforce any laws."
One recent morning, Lockhart and fellow historian Alton Adams Jr. sat at a vintage mahogany table in the museum, comparing notes on their own family's marriage history. It turns out that both have recently turned up family marriage certificates circa 1916, when Denmark owned the Virgin Islands and permission from the King of Denmark was necessary to marry, Adams says.
While Adams researched the certificate of his parents, Alton Adams and Ella Joseph, Lockhart unearthed the certificate of his grandparents, Herbert Ernest Lockhart and Karen Inger Pedersen.
Adams is chair of the Trust's ongoing Hassel Island initiative. (See "Group Inspects Hassel Island Restoration Work.") It's a project long in the making, and one in which Adams' family had a significant part.
"My grandfather, Jacob Adams, was a shipwright for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. on Hassel Island, where he worked for 37 years," Adams says.
History is in Adams' veins. His father's recollections, a unique and intimate glimpse of V.I. history, The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams Sr.: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy, was published earlier this year. (See "New Book Shows V.I. History Through Eyes of Bandmaster, Booster.")
Along with the Trust, a coalition of organizations and private citizens has partnered in a common effort to preserve the island's history, including V.I. National Park, Friends of V.I. National Park, Ricardo Charaf, the Office of the Governor, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the Cassinelli family and Trudie and Neil Prior.
"Preserving the history on this island was Edith Woods' dream," Lockhart says. "I wish she were here to see it."
Woods' overwhelming passion for the preservation of the island's character, architecture and art has guided preservation efforts for decades. She was a mentor to artists and preservationists, including Felipe Ayala, Trust director of outreach projects and author of a popular walking tour guidebook, available at the museum.
With some digging, a little of the Trust's own history comes to life. Board member and marine historian Charles Consolvo provided the Trust's 1965 incorporating document.
Margot Bachman, who moved to the island more than 50 years ago and published the island guide St. Thomas This Week for 40 years, is the only founding member available for comment. She seemed a bit surprised when asked about the founding.
"Oh," she says, "It's been so long ago. We were concerned with saving the character, history and culture of the island. We thought it was disappearing. In those days, the government's interest was on development, the hotels, not the history."
Yanick Bayard was brought into the organization in the early 1970s by founding member Edith Feiner, who had a flower shop downtown.
"I was about 22, married and just returned from college," Bayard says. "She stressed the importance of acknowledging our history. I moved here from Haiti when I was 13, and I remember my love for downtown, the library, all the old buildings. I used to guide tours at the Santa Maria plantation on the West End."
Philip Sturm, businessman, historian and authority on West Indian Antique Furniture, has been an active voice in the Trust for years. He served as president twice in the '80s, vice president and now a member of the board.
"We are getting ourselves out in front now," he says, "becoming a force within the historical aspect of the island. I think we'll see something happening in (Gov. John) deJongh's administration. It's no longer viable just shopping downtown. There has been no enforcement of laws."
The Trust museum needs volunteers. Call 774-5541 or email the Trust.
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Nov. 9, 2008 -- Shortly before Christmas in December 1965, a dozen dedicated preservationists decided to give St. Thomas a present it would remember: an organization to protect and preserve the island's rich heritage.
Many of the original dozen have become history themselves, including architect Frederick Gjessing, artist Ira Smith, community activist Gertrude Dudley and historian Isidor Paiewonsky. But their spirit is alive today. The organization is a vibrant part of the community, with a museum of its own and an exciting new Hassel Island restoration project.
The St. Thomas Historical Trust Museum opened in 2006 in Royal Dane Mall in Charlotte Amalie, in what used to be Beretta Center. The location, itself a part of downtown St. Thomas history, serves the museum well. The space was donated by Jim Armour of Armour Enterprises.
Trust president Ronnie Lockhart is literally part and parcel of local history.
"I was raised in the Crystal Palace on Synagogue Hill above town," he says. The building, which Lockhart calls a "hearty survivor of St. Thomas's golden age," has a rich history itself. It is so named because it was the first house on St. Thomas to be fitted with glass sash windows.
Lockhart has been Trust president for about two years.
"It's a full-time job," he remarks, but one which he handily manages, along with running the Crystal Palace Bed and Breakfast.
The mission of the Trust. a private not-for-profit entity, is to identify, protect and preserve the historical identity, structures, sites and cultural heritage of St. Thomas through education, advocacy and promotion.
"It is not to be confused with the government Historic Preservation Commission, which oversees compliance with federal and local laws," Lockhart says. "We have no authority to enforce any laws."
One recent morning, Lockhart and fellow historian Alton Adams Jr. sat at a vintage mahogany table in the museum, comparing notes on their own family's marriage history. It turns out that both have recently turned up family marriage certificates circa 1916, when Denmark owned the Virgin Islands and permission from the King of Denmark was necessary to marry, Adams says.
While Adams researched the certificate of his parents, Alton Adams and Ella Joseph, Lockhart unearthed the certificate of his grandparents, Herbert Ernest Lockhart and Karen Inger Pedersen.
Adams is chair of the Trust's ongoing Hassel Island initiative. (See "Group Inspects Hassel Island Restoration Work.") It's a project long in the making, and one in which Adams' family had a significant part.
"My grandfather, Jacob Adams, was a shipwright for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. on Hassel Island, where he worked for 37 years," Adams says.
History is in Adams' veins. His father's recollections, a unique and intimate glimpse of V.I. history, The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams Sr.: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy, was published earlier this year. (See "New Book Shows V.I. History Through Eyes of Bandmaster, Booster.")
Along with the Trust, a coalition of organizations and private citizens has partnered in a common effort to preserve the island's history, including V.I. National Park, Friends of V.I. National Park, Ricardo Charaf, the Office of the Governor, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the Cassinelli family and Trudie and Neil Prior.
"Preserving the history on this island was Edith Woods' dream," Lockhart says. "I wish she were here to see it."
Woods' overwhelming passion for the preservation of the island's character, architecture and art has guided preservation efforts for decades. She was a mentor to artists and preservationists, including Felipe Ayala, Trust director of outreach projects and author of a popular walking tour guidebook, available at the museum.
With some digging, a little of the Trust's own history comes to life. Board member and marine historian Charles Consolvo provided the Trust's 1965 incorporating document.
Margot Bachman, who moved to the island more than 50 years ago and published the island guide St. Thomas This Week for 40 years, is the only founding member available for comment. She seemed a bit surprised when asked about the founding.
"Oh," she says, "It's been so long ago. We were concerned with saving the character, history and culture of the island. We thought it was disappearing. In those days, the government's interest was on development, the hotels, not the history."
Yanick Bayard was brought into the organization in the early 1970s by founding member Edith Feiner, who had a flower shop downtown.
"I was about 22, married and just returned from college," Bayard says. "She stressed the importance of acknowledging our history. I moved here from Haiti when I was 13, and I remember my love for downtown, the library, all the old buildings. I used to guide tours at the Santa Maria plantation on the West End."
Philip Sturm, businessman, historian and authority on West Indian Antique Furniture, has been an active voice in the Trust for years. He served as president twice in the '80s, vice president and now a member of the board.
"We are getting ourselves out in front now," he says, "becoming a force within the historical aspect of the island. I think we'll see something happening in (Gov. John) deJongh's administration. It's no longer viable just shopping downtown. There has been no enforcement of laws."
The Trust museum needs volunteers. Call 774-5541 or email the Trust.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.