The Big Island
St. Croix is set apart from her U.S.V.I. sisters but well worth the journey.
Arrive by sea to St. Croix’s main harbor in Christiansted and you’ll think you’re sailing back in time. Fort Christiansvaern looms large. Its sunny yellow exterior crafted from ballast brick and completed in the mid-1700s once protected against pirates and privateers. Today, the fort is part of the Christiansted National Historic Site, a seven-acre complex of historic buildings such as the Customs House, Scale House, and Danish West Indian & Guinea Company Warehouse that are managed by the U.S. National Park Service and open to the public. Several yards to the west is a two-story tall coral-rock constructed replica of a sugar-era windmill. It’s a beacon to thirsty mariners since nowadays it doubles as a bar on the waterfront’s boardwalk. Then, there’s Christiansted itself. The one-square-mile settlement is an amazing showpiece of 18th-century colonial architecture iconic for its red-hued roofs under which currently sit trendy restaurants, jewelry shops and art galleries. History, a chance to really experience bygone times up close and personal, is what sets St. Croix apart from its sibling U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John. Yet there is plenty of nature to love on St. Croix, too, as well as a host of modern-day services, luxuries and amenities.
St. Croix’s 84-square-miles makes it nearly triple the size of St. Thomas’ 31-square-miles and over four times larger than St. John—both islands are situated some 40 nautical miles to the north-northeast. The “Big Island”, as its often nicknamed, boasts a few other distinguishing points. For one, St. Croix was the last to become part of the Danish West Indies. The Danes moved south in 1733 to expand their sugar plantation empire, but they weren’t the first to do so. St. Croix has been the most fought over of the Virgins. Seven nations and military groups have laid claim to the island—Spain, the Netherlands, England, France, the Knights of Malta, Denmark, and the United States—the flags of whom line the dock at the St. Croix Yacht Club in Teague Bay. The island’s size proved a boon to the U.S. upon purchase in 1917. Not only did this provide America with a sizable military presence in the Caribbean, it has since proved valuable for investment. Rum, from the Cruzan and Captain Morgan distilleries—both offer tours and sampling bars—is a three-century-old industry that now pumps from $100-250 million back into the local economy annually thanks to a federal excise tax. Until 2011, St. Croix was home to the second largest petroleum refinery in the western hemisphere, which closed in 2012 and is now up for sale. Looking ahead, it’s the island’s location at the nexus of a global fiber optic telecommunications system that has it poised to attract cutting edge commercial enterprises.