The skeletal remains of buildings located on the west end of the University of the Virgin Islands campus on St. Thomas are the ruins of an old sugar factory complex that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, according to a search of UVI land records.
However, the designation does not come with attendant funding to restore or preserve the buildings, which the university inherited as it added to its land holdings through the years. The U.S. Virgin Islands boasts over 90 registered sites, but the only monetary entitlement gained for these locations is the ability to apply for certain grants.
As the only Historically Black College and University located beyond the U.S. mainland, UVI was built on land that has a rich history predating its designation as an HBCU and the establishment of the campus on St. Thomas in July 1963, when the school opened as the College of the Virgin Islands.
Not all the land that makes up the modern-day St. Thomas campus was acquired at one time.
UVI Public Relations Director Tamika Williams said the Lindberg Bay parcel 66 was deeded to the university by the federal government in 1963, while John Brewers Bay parcel 1 was deeded five years later, in 1968.
“In 2000 the university purchased Adelphi Parcels 1 and 2 from VIRCO and in 2001 also purchased John Brewers Bay parcels 4 and 5 from the Brewers Bay Development Company,” Williams said.
Of the property acquired, Williams confirmed it included the historical ruins catalogued in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
According to a document entered into the registry in July 1978, the ruins found to the west of the campus consist of a sugar factory complex that was separated when “a modern highway” was put in, dividing the animal mill from the factory.
“While none of the deed records make reference to an active plantation, the 1856 Hornbeck map shows several buildings at the site. The first record of ownership is dated 1855. At that time the estate of Peter James Souffrain was transferred to his sister, Hortense Souffrain. In 1883 the estate was sold to L.E. de Lafarde for $1,250. The buyer bore the cost of the purchase and the taxes owed on the property,” reads the document.
Though the deed records may not reflect a plantation, the property itself actively does. According to the document, the structure found south of the road is a “typical T plan” factory consistent with the sugar processing factories in the Virgin Islands during that period.
Portions of the factory walls were 22 inches thick, made of rubble and plastered on both faces, and according to the document, “the outer corners lined with red brick. The window and doors in this section are lined with yellow brick.”
While little evidence remains of the mill, the document indicates it was built “typical of the many animal-powered crushing mills that once proliferated in St. Thomas.”
This means it would have been built on a raised circular platform and the mill enclosed with a thick parapet wall. “The stone rubble wall is plastered on its exterior face. The horse walk is 30 feet in radius, with a compacted earth floor. The stone bridge for supporting the set of rollers is 4 feet in thickness, with the walls plastered,” reads the document.
Though the property is part of the National Register of Historic Places inventory, the placement does not entitle it to funding for upkeep or restoration of the ruins.
“The university is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the John Brewers beach and ruins on the university’s property,” Williams said. She added that since the acquisition of the ruins the university “is not aware of anyone attempting to vandalize the ruins,” but on the most recent visit to the property, graffiti was found on the eastern wall of the sugar factory.