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St. Croix 100 - #92 Columbus LandingSalt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix contains the only known site where members of an expedition led by Christopher Columbus set foot on what is now United States territory. In 1493, on his second visit to the New World, Christopher Columbus sent a party of men ashore to the area now known as Columbus Landing. You can visit the spot where this historical event took place and learn about the Columbus expedition landing, the native Carib and Taino tribes, and much more at the Salt River Bay Visitor’s Center.

The last of the native people to inhabit St. Croix were the Carib. Originally from the Guiana region of South America, the Carib people had gained presence of the islands from the Tainos (or Arawaks) in the early 1400’s. It was, however, the Carib that greeted Columbus on his second voyage through the islands. On that fateful day of November 14, 1493, Columbus sent a landing party of about two dozen men ashore to St. Croix, which he had named Santa Cruz (or ‘Holy Cross’). Upon entering a deserted Carib village, the Spanish found a small group of Taino captives who agreed to accompany them back to their ship. While returning to their ship, the Spanish encountered a Carib war party. In the ensuing fight one of Columbus' men was wounded by an arrow; he died several days later. This altercation was the first documented conflict between Europeans and Native Americans.

Columbus Landing Party

Over 600 years later, Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve is a blend of history, sea, and land that holds some of the largest remaining mangrove forests in the Virgin Islands, as well as coral reefs and a submarine canyon. This area has been witness to thousands of years of human endeavor and every major period of human habitation in the Virgin Islands is represented, from several South American Indian cultures to attempts at colonization by a succession of European nations, along with enslaved West Africans and their descendants. The area around Salt River contains the remains of some 1,500 years of Saladoid (Igneri), Ostinoid, Taino, and Carib occupation. During the Taino occupation, the area served as the seat of a chiefdom, which contained an important religious structure, and a ball and dance court. Over 100 years of archeological investigations have demonstrated that the Salt River Bay area was the focus of the most extensive and intensive prehistoric occupation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Columbus Landing Beach & Visitor Center

Columbus Landing Beach with Visitor Center on hilltop in background

The Columbus Landing Site was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960, and on February 24, 1992 Congress created the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve, under cooperative management of the National Park Service (NPS) and Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. As a historic area of the NPS, the park was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the same day. You can learn more about the fascinating history of Salt River Bay, including Columbus’ landing, at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is open November 14 through June each year on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 AM until 4:00 PM, so please plan your trip accordingly. When the Visitor Center is closed, information about Salt River Bay may be obtained at the National Park Service visitor contact station at Fort Christianvaern, Christiansted National Historic Site between the hours of 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM daily.

- Jennie Ogden, Editor

 

 

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