Film review: The Heritage and Architecture of Saint Croix: A CHANT Walking Tour

August 24, 2011

History, Videos & Music

For newcomers or visitors to St. Croix who have not read my guidebook (smile), The Heritage and Architecture of Saint Croix: A CHANT Walking Tour provides a pleasant orientation to the primary historic sites of the island’s two towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted.

Local historian Wayne James narrates the tour which begins in Christiansted at the Sunday Market Square and concludes with historic churches of Frederiksted. In between you are shown colorful modern-day photographs of historic sites, interspersed with old photographs, drawings and sound recordings which evoke the past. Most of the material covers what I consider the mainstream historic sites: the several buildings which make up the Christiansted National Historical Site, Fort Frederik, and historic churches.

The best thing about the film is the inclusion of such lesser known historic areas such as Water Gut and Free Gut in Christiansted. James tells us that Water Gut was a community of artisans and their apprentices, such as blacksmiths and carpenters, which evolved into a working class community. About Free Gut, James explains that it was the original city neighbourhood for freemen and freewomen, and we are shown photos of a few early homes, as well as a plaque which adorns the childhood home of Melvin Evans, the first elected governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, who was raised in Free Gut.

The film also includes an interlude in which James guides us through his own personal collection of plantation era Crucian-made mahogany furniture. While a bit out of place in the film which otherwise focuses its lens on historic buildings, the vignette will be of interest to people who enjoy antique furniture and may help you imagine the interiors of some of the elegant town houses introduced in the film.

The producers clearly made an effort to give coverage to topics related to slavery and African-Crucian history. In the film I heard for the first time that historians estimate that some 500,000 slaves were sold at the Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse auction yard in Christiansted between 1749 and 1803. That is a sobering fact that should be repeated more often. I also learned that during the slave uprising of 1848, it is believed that some 8,000 slaves made their way to Frederiksted, or fully half of those living on the island at the time. Someone should make a film about that!

Heritage is an informative film, professionally made with some beautiful footage and images. I found myself wishing for a bit more depth, however, and for the inclusion of more lesser-known historic sites and areas. I would have liked to hear more about African-Crucian communities in the cities, the slave uprising of 1848, the Fireburn of 1878, the artisans who built the towns, the lives of the planters and their families who lived ‘in town’, the ports which were the life-blood of the colony, and the town cemeteries (I once visited a cemetery in Memphis which offers full-fledged hour-long audio tours which consisted mainly of stories about the many interesting people buried there. It was a high point of my trip. Moral: there is a story just about everywhere if you take the time to look for it.) I would also have liked to hear excerpts from first-person histories—dramatised voices from the past.

My other complaint has to do with the billing of the film as a Walking Tour. This led to certain expectations in my mind, but James doesn’t really walk (he stands around a bit) and there are no references to addresses, routes, or locations. A companion map with key locations marked would have been a nice addition for enthusiasts who may wish to follow a viewing of the film with their own tour on foot.

But being hungry for more does not make me ungrateful for the appetizer. The film is a welcome addition to my library and something I recommend, especially to persons largely unfamiliar with St. Croix’s history. It’s always a joy to see history come alive on the television screen, and even better when it is the history of an island I love as much as I do St. Croix.

The Heritage and Architecture of Saint Croix: A CHANT Walking Tour, 24 minutes, was published in 2010. It was written and hosted by Wayne James; directed and edited by Cathy M SitaRam and produced by Frandelle Gerard of Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism. It features music by Bully & the Kafooners.

The film is on sale for about $20 in shops throughout St. Croix. To order online or to watch excerpts from the film visit www.chantvi.org.

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About Susanna

Susanna is a Tennessee native transplanted to the BVI, and the author of Moon Handbooks Virgin Islands.

View all posts by Susanna

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