Fort Christian has finally reopened after being closed following September’s twin hurricanes, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced Friday.
Said to be the oldest structure in continuous use in the U.S. Virgin Islands, construction on the Charlotte Amalie landmark began in 1672. It was designated a historic landmark in 1971 and became a museum.
Easily the most recognizable structure on the island, it was closed to tourism in 2005 for renovations that were supposed to take less than a year to complete. But it did not reopen for more than a decade, in March 2017. It was open just over five months. When September’s storms hit, the fort closed it again.
Workers made repairs to the roof and outside structure, including the clock tower that serves as its entrance. All above-ground service lines, including electric, cable and internet, were removed and installed underground.
With a focus on historical accuracy, the concrete in the courtyard was removed and replaced with brick in accordance with the original Danish design. The brick was likely covered up when the fort was used as a jail.
During the restoration process, human remains were uncovered at the site. They now rest in a small tomb in the chapel area of the fort.
The fort is expected to draw tourists and school children and will also serve as a venue for community events like weddings and concerts.Work is continuing at the site, particularly on brick paving in the courtyard.
In January, Sean Krigger, director of the State Historic Preservation Office at DPNR, projected a soft-opening by the end of March. The decision to re-brick the courtyard was made more than a year ago, adding considerably to the scope of the work that was in the original notice to proceed on the restoration in 2005. The government awarded the bid for the additional work to Custom Builders, but in the spring of 2016, the deal stalled; the government didn’t approve the contract for months. The main work involves taking up old, damaged bricks in the courtyard and replacing them with a combination of rehabilitated bricks from other parts of the structure supplemented with new bricks designed to mimic the original. That contract was to be completed by September 2017– the month the two Category 5 hurricanes hit the territory.
While about 60 percent of the courtyard’s paving was already complete, DPNR was awaiting new bricks to finish the work. The new bricks were expected to arrive in mid-February.
After Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s State of the Territory address Jan. 23, Mapp held a private reception and party at the fort, prompting many to question why the fort was not open, if it was in sufficient condition to host a party.
Fort Christian Museum will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to DPNR. The museum offers self-guided tours and limited access to the exhibits. Guided tours are available at 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. daily.