Visit the Estate Whim Museum & Great House
The Estate Whim Museum is the only sugar plantation museum in the Virgin Islands. With its slave quarters, Great House, cookhouse, sugar mill and factory complex, visiting the Estate Whim plantation is like walking back in time. The purpose of the Estate Whim Museum is to increase the understanding of a traditional colonial sugar plantation to island residents and visitors. The museum tour and exhibits were designed to interpret the economics of a plantation, explain the cultivation and processing of sugar, and give visitors an idea of what everyday life was like for the people who lived and worked on the sugar plantations.
The knowledgeable guides welcome you at the Great House and will tell you about the house and what plantation life would have been like. Then, you can take a self-guided tour of the rest of the grounds including the restored windmill and sugar factory ruins. Constructed in the 1760’s, the sprawling Great House, with its oval shape, coral walls, and massive windows, currently houses the museum’s gift shop and visitor’s center in one wing. The remainder of the Great House offers visitors a peek into a fully furnished bedroom, dining room, and salon containing original artwork, fixtures, antique furniture, china, silverware, household items of the period, and more. Don’t miss the ‘dry moat’ and cellars below the Great House which features the woodworking shop of Arthur Abel – a local carpenter who made a lot of the gingerbread and fretwork you will see in nearby Frederiksted.
Just outside the Great House you will find the cookhouse and adjoining domestic quarters, as well as an exhibit hall. In addition to preserving the history and artifacts of the plantation and sugar production, the museum also offers current cultural exhibits in the exhibit hall which change periodically. In this area of the grounds you will also see the privy, which was converted into a bathhouse by the owners in the twentieth century. As you meander through the buildings and exhibits, make sure to take a look at the plants, trees, and flowers growing in the garden and throughout the property. Estate Whim houses many local botanicals with medicinal uses, fruit trees, herbs, and even wild cotton.
While the Great House is stately and full of historical artifacts, visitors seems most eager to see the sugar factory ruins and mills. On the far end of the property stands a stone and coral sugar mill, the only one on St. Croix (that I am aware of) that has most of it’s wooden windmill affixed on top. You can look inside the sugar mill and see the wooden rollers that crushed the sugar cane, extracting the cane juice and transporting it by sluice to the sugar factory. On this area of the plantation you will also find the chimney, an animal mill, and the sugar factory ruins – complete with copper vats for boiling the cane juice until it crystallized into raw brown sugar called ‘muscovado’.
The Estate Whim Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, and Cruise Ship days (except Sundays), from 10:00am – 3:00pm*, and is definitely worth the time and nominal admission fee for a visit. The volunteers and staff are very knowledgeable and friendly, and the plantation buildings and grounds are both historic and beautiful. Not only is Estate Whim a peek back in time, but it is a fun lesson in the history and culture of the sugar plantations and industry on St. Croix.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
*Be sure to verify current hours of operation as they may change from time to time.