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'Legacies of Upstreet:' A History of a People

Nov. 21, 2005 – Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, has some special neighborhood communities, and none is more special than Upstreet. Upstreet is the popular name for Kongens Quarter, one of the three districts of Charlotte Amalie.
Noted educator and author Mrs. Ruth Moolenaar has chronicled a history of Upstreet, with the aid of memories of many Upstreeters, notably those belonging to the organization We From Upstreet. Upstreet is an area of superlatives, and Moolenaar has done a superlative job of presenting its history, its social context, its people and their joys and sadness, their achievements and traditions.
"Legacies of Upstreet: The Transformation of a Virgin Islands Neighborhood" is an ambitious look at Virgin Islands history through the people of a community. The boundaries define a rectangular valley area in the eastern section of Charlotte Amalie, according to the first chapter. Viewed from Skyline Drive (Valdemar Hill Sr. Drive), it is bordered by Upper Hospital Ground Hill and Field Hill, Blackbeard's Hill, to Kommandant Gade, the western boundary. To the east it extends from Bluebeard's Castle Hill over Madamberg and Ross-Taarneberg estates (Pollyberg). The southern perimeters include King's Wharf, Veterans Drive and St. Thomas Harbor.
An overview of the early history and manmade environment — grid pattern and step streets, historic landmarks, and public spaces — leads quickly into a social history from 1917 going forward to the present. The area was economically prominent from early V.I. history, quite naturally, since St. Thomas' harbor was the center of commerce.
It is the people who bring social history alive, and Moolenaar's book is no exception. She describes with frequent anecdotes many traditions, language phrases, and individuals — be they butchers, grocers, musicians — in their ordinary and extraordinary daily lives.
And the nicknames. In a presentation ceremony held in the foyer of the Grand Hotel on Nov. 13, Dr. Gilbert Sprauve observed that he had been asked to read a section from the book. However, he found the listing of nicknames so fascinating that he concentrated on those, and just saying them out loud — "Captain Hotwater," "Harry Fry Fish," "French-bread-crusher," "Juanie" — had the overflow crowd hooting in appreciation. There are downtowns all over the world, Sprauve noted, but he doesn't know of any other upstreets.
One wonders, reading the appendix list of "Skills and Talents," if there would be any history of education and humanities if not for Upstreet. The listing of educators, folkdance instructors, journalists and authors, and musicians is formidable: more than 60 musicians and 50 educators. Among the authors and journalists Upstreet claims are Alton Adams Sr. down the alphabet to Ruth E. Thomas, and in between Darwin Creque, Geraldo Guirty, Valdemar Hill, J. Antonio Jarvis, Dr. Marilyn Krigger, Dana Orie, Arona Petersen, Adolph Sixto, and – of course – Moolenaar herself, whose publications for the Education Department's Project Introspection are legend.
Not to be outdone, the list of athletes, sport by sport, is even longer than musicians. There are attorneys and blacksmiths, carpenters and clergy, jewelers and judges, physicians and plumbers, police and street vendors — and a town crier.
The 160-page book contains 50 illustrations, presented in a softened black and white. Another speaker, Myron Jackson, noting that many more photographs were collected, said he trusts a sequel will appear to feature more photographs, even hoping "Legacies of Upstreet" is the first in a whole set of books. Upstreeter Louis Ible prepared the graphics and finalized layout for the publication. Magda Smith, who was director of the V.I. Humanities Council when this project entered the mind of Moolenaar, was editor.
Moolenaar details her intentions in a preface: "Not intended as a historical reference, the publication presents a capsule version of the historic evolution of Kongens Quarter with a focus on the social and cultural legacies of the distinctive Upstreet neighborhood that existed during the first half of the 20th century."
Despite that pronouncement, readers will find it a valuable and permanent resource, as well as a fascinating look at a Virgin Islands community. It's not surprising that the two are melded in this work. Moolenaar's strong education background and scholarship leads her to establish valid sources and well-organized material and, as she said in her remarks at the ceremony, she "most enjoyed writing about the people." Those who want to benefit from her obvious enjoyment and extensive knowledge can purchase the book at the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, at the lower eastern side of Government Hill.
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