Thursday, May 28, 2009

St. Thomas' Amazing 99 Steps

An aspect of St. Thomas that I have always found intriguing are the 99 Steps. These are steps found in various areas of Charlotte Amalie (the capital of the VI), that makes it easier (slightly) to traverse the many hills on the island.

In actuality there are 103 steps, not 99, which is really kind of funny.

The most popular of the steps are located on Government Hill next to Hotel 29, formerly a private home built by a nineteenth century sea captain for his bride, and Haagensen House, a restored nineteenth century upper-class family home.

The Steps circa the 1950's

The above photograph shows the area surrounding the steps before some of the amazing restorations of the past couple of decades, particularly to Haagensen House.

Everyone, including Virgin Island historians agree on how the steps became a part of St. Thomas' landscape. It seems Danish engineers who laid out the town (in Denmark), had never actually been to St. Thomas. After all, in the 1600's the trip from Denmark to the Virgin Islands would have been long, and hazardous.

The story goes these engineers had no idea of the island's hilly terrain, and when the mistake was discovered, the steps were added as an attempt to connect the various streets of the town to approximate (as much as possible), the original vision of a flat terrain.

The steps traveled to the island as ship's ballast.

The 99 Steps on Government Hill lead up to Blackbeard's hill, where one will find historical structures such as, Blackbeard's Castle, built originally as a pirate lookout, and Crown House, the home built for Governor Peter Von Scholten, the man who freed Virgin Islands slaves.

It is interesting to travel around the town of Charlotte Amalie and suddenly look up and notice some of the steps in various areas. Sometimes they're heavily used by town residents, and sometimes they look somewhat overgrown. But, whatever the case, they are always intriguing, and a beautiful feature of a beautiful island.

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The adventures ... and misadventures of a city slicker turned mellow islander.