Two of the most iconic and imposing historical buildings here on St. Croix are Fort Christiansvaern and Fort Frederik. These forts were constructed between the mid-1700’s and mid-1800’s to protect Christiansted and Frederiksted from smugglers, pirates, European invaders, as well as to enforce the payment of taxes on imports and exports, and to deter slave rebellions. Both of these forts offer self-guided tours that allow you to step back in time and take in some of the history of St. Croix, or you can take a guided tour with a local guide to enhance your experience.
Alongside Christiansted Harbor, Fort Christiansvaern’s yellow walls rise up from the green grass surrounding the Christiansted National Historic Site. Fort Christiansvaern was completed by the Danish in 1749, and was added to from 1835-1841. It’s made of Danish yellow bricks and masonry that were imported as ballast in the holds of sailing ships. The structure of the fort itself is a four point citadel surrounding a central courtyard, and it’s pastel yellow color is typical of the Danish Colonial style of the era.
Fort Christiansvaern houses an array of original cannons and cannon balls, and features several military exhibits including an arsenal and a furnished Officer’s Day Room. You can walk through the dungeon, the latrine, and the courtyard. The fort offers some amazing photo ops with it’s striking series of archways, and spectacular views of Christiansted Harbor and the fort itself from the second story. If you are lucky enough to be standing on the second story when historic 138′ Roseway schooner sails by you can really get a feel for the history.
In Frederiksted, Fort Frederik’s red walls contrast against the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea near Frederiksted Pier. This deep red rubble and masonry fort is built in a trapezoidal design that was typical of the classic Danish military architecture of the period. Also known as Frederiksfort, it was built between 1751 and 1760 and named in honor of the reigning Danish monarch, Frederik V. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Fort Frederik Museum houses a furnished commandants quarters, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, and a display about Danish West Indies architectural features. The fort is also home to a very interesting display related to the Fredensborg, a ship that was part of the ‘Triangle Trade’ of slaves from Europe, to Africa and St. Croix, and back to Europe. The ship sank just off coast in Denmark, but the first mate saved the ship’s log. At the fort are records about the sale of the slaves which occurred in St. Croix, as well as a collection of historical items.
Fort Frederik was also was the center of the abolition of slavery in the Virgin Islands as it was here that Danish Governor Peter Von Shoulten emancipated the slaves on July 3, 1848. While the 1848 Emancipation Revolt technically ended slavery in the Danish West Indies, it inaugurated a 30-year period of serfdom based on contract labor that ensured continuing control by plantation owners. Then in 1878, escalating tensions erupted into the Labor Riot and ‘Fireburn’, which ended the contract labor system.
Whether you choose to take a guided tour, or you choose to use the pamphlets provided by the admissions offices to take a self-guided tour, I recommend touring both of these historic forts. Fort Christiansvaern and Fort Frederik offer different exhibits, different views and photo ops, and they each offer something about the history of St. Croix that is worth exploring. While you could tour each of the forts in about 30-45 minutes, I recommend giving yourself an hour or more so you can read all the historical information provided and take pictures without being rushed. You may also want to plan some extra time to visit the areas around each fort, as both Christiansted and Frederiksted are full of beautiful architecture, local culture, and Crucian history.
Hours and Admission:
Fort Christiansvaern is located at 2100 Church Street in Christiansted, and is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is $7 per adult, children 16 and under are free with a paid adult. Secure 2 hour parking is available at Fort Christiansvaern until 3:30 pm. To confirm the hours and admission fees, or for additional information, you can call the National Park Service at (340) 773-1460.
Fort Frederik Museum is located at #198 Strand Street in Frederiksted, and is open Monday thru Friday from 8:00am to 4:00pm, and when cruise ships are in port. Admission is $5, children 16 and under are free with a paid adult. Street parking is available along Strand Street, or across the street from the fort. To confirm the hours and admission fees, or for additional information, you can call the Fort Frederik Museum at (340) 772-2021.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
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- Tour Two Historic Forts
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- Learn Something New
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