“Long overdue” refurbishing of Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted has caused the St. Croix landmark to be closed this week.
Gregory Camacho, superintendent of the St. Croix National Park Group, stood across the street from Fort Christiansvaern Park last week watching the work being done on the exterior walls. A 10-person crew from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center, based in Frederick, Maryland, was cleaning, inspecting, repairing and painting approximately 25,000 square feet of the exterior walls of Fort Christiansvaern.
Camacho told the Source that the work was “long overdue.” He said the delay was because the Park Service wanted to ensure it was done right. The Fort restoration project is valued at over $600,000.
The painting compound being used is keim mineral silicate and is different from how the Fort was painted in previous restorations. Camacho, who was born on St. Croix and recently returned for this job, said this compound will last much longer than the old lime-wash material previously used. It also requires less maintenance.
All of the Fort’s exterior walls, including those of the courtyard, will receive this treatment. Camacho said the project is supported with funds associated with the recovery efforts from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The painting portion of the restoring project is scheduled to take about two months and should not require closing the Fort. However, another part of the project includes replacing Fort Christiansvaern’s sally port, the Fort’s main entrance gate. That portion of the work was started this week and necessitated the Fort closing Monday and staying closed throughout this week.
The gate is a massive, solid wood gate comprising of two separate doors. The gate was badly damaged during hurricanes Irma and Maria and was shipped for reconstruction in Maryland.
The installation process requires a combination of a bracing system, heavy equipment and adjustments for hanging the gate pieces into place. The Fort is closed to prevent any risk to the public in the work area. Fort access will return as soon as the installation has been safely completed.
Along with the improvements at the Fort is the added attraction of the National Park Store in the Scale House being open for regular hours.
The store had been open only sporadically since the hurricanes – as little as one day a week. Camacho told the Source that a deal has been worked out with the concessionaire to resume regular hours this month. It will be open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It also will have more items for sale than before including snacks and soft drinks. And it will be getting a new sign.
Behind the wall where Camacho talked to the Source is the site of the old slave market.
Dan Ritter, Park Service facilities division chief, said there are plans to make the market accessible to the public and also to make the Guinea Company Warehouse into a museum. However, funds are not yet available and a time frame for that has not been set.
According to a Park Service news release, the landscape and historic structures of the Christiansted National Historic Site are one of the most complete and best-preserved assemblages of 18th and 19th century Danish Colonial buildings found in the New World. Fort Christiansvaern is a French style Danish Colonial fortification. The Fort protected shipping from potential attacks by foreign invaders, privateers and pirates, enforced customs duties, housed prisoners and quartered Danish troops responsible for internal security on St. Croix. The Fort is also the oldest structure in Christiansted. Built by enslaved Africans and conscripted Danish soldiers its construction started in 1738 with the last major additions dating between 1835-1841. The original fabric of the Fort remains largely unaltered.