March 10, 2004 Modern technology has been helping a team of twelve students from the University of Maine to preserve a bit of history regarding the Leinster Bay ruins in St. John.
For the last two weeks, the students have been using global positioning systems and other technological wonders to map the crumbling ruins before they're totally lost to the elements. With the aid of a computer, which sits under an awning, the students can plot what they're measuring.
"It's one of the first times archeologists and engineers have come together," V.I. National Park archeologist Ken Wild said.
The mapping project will enable future archeologists to see exactly what stood on the site on this date in 2004.
"When it falls down, it looks like a pile of rocks," Wild explained, gesturing toward an extensive mound of rocks that once was a wall that stood many feet high.
Most of the students plan to be engineers, but the group does include an art education major who keeps track of what the students measure. Their trip to St. John is part of a course developed specifically to use technology in this kind of situation.
Wild said they picked the Leinster Bay ruins for this pilot project because they were easily accessible via the waterfront path from the Annaberg Plantation parking lot.
The team has had to develop methodology as it went along. "We knew it was going to be a learning experience," said Connie Holden, a professor of spatial information science and engineering at the University of Maine.
Leinster Bay Plantation dates back to 1797, which makes it the same age as nearby Annaberg Plantation. The ruins, tucked several yards back in the bush at Leinster Bay Beach, are extensive. They include what's left of the factory, a vast retaining wall, storehouses, and one of only two water mills known to exist on St. John.
By 1808, the plantation was one of five in the area owned by James Murphy, who also owned Annaberg Plantation.
Records show that the Murphy plantations covered 1,254 acres worked by 591 slaves. The area had more slaves than any other in St. John.
The water mill stands upright, but time and the elements have eroded its mortar in several places. The towering edifice could go down at any moment.
Just getting the ruins uncovered enough to map was a job. Wild said the park worked at it for a couple of weeks, then the students took over. Joe Kessler, president of the Friends of V.I. National Park, said it was a real dilemma trying to determine "which trees are harming the structures and which are holding it together."
The park staff put herbicide on the trees growing in the ruins, but those sprouting out of bare ground were only cut. This means that bush will soon surround the ruins.
The students are mapping the water mill and the factory building. After they leave this Friday, four Friends interns will continue measuring and eventually send the data to the University of Maine for evaluation.
The University of Maine team expects to apply for a grant in order to make return visits during the next three years and continue its work.
Wild said this set of ruins is just one of about 500 across the park that are crumbling into piles of stones. Eighteen of the ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places. The Leinster Bay site is not one of them.
While Wild said there are no plans to shore up these ruins as the park has done at Annaberg, Cinnamon Bay and Reef Bay, the mapping project will make it possible should funds become available in the future.
This project cost the Friends $15,000. Kessler said the Friends paid for $200 of the students' airfare and pay them $7 an hour for their labor.
If you want to know more about Leinster Bay, join historian David Knight for a Friends seminar entitled "Leinster Bay: A Piece of Ireland in the Danish West Indies." It will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. March 17. The fee is $25 for nonmembers and $20 for members. Call the Friends at 779-4940 to reserve your spot.
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