The St. John Historical Society’s labor of love, "St. John: Life in Five Quarters," is out. The 216-page book includes 66 articles about St. John.
"The book is very broad and inclusive of a wonderful mix of voices and perspectives," historian and Historical Society member David Knight said.
In addition to Knight, it’s written, compiled and edited mainly by Historical Society members Eleanor Gibney, Robin Swank, and Bruce Schoonover. It includes profiles of notable people and places, detailed estate histories, articles on science and nature, accounts of important events, and first-hand descriptions of life on St. John long ago. Several of the articles are summaries of information gleaned on various Historical Society outings.
The title is a reference to St. John’s five administrative districts, known as quarters, Cruz Bay Quarter, Maho Bay Quarter, Reef Bay Quarter, Coral Bay Quarter, and East End Quarter. Quarter divisions were first noted in the island’s earliest Danish-colonial tax records compiled in 1728 and are still in use today.
It’s the first book about St. John history since Ruth Low and Rafael Valls published "St. John Backtime" in 1985. Both Low and Valls are now deceased.
The book is filed with 160 images, most appearing in print for the first time. The cover is an 1833 hand-painted watercolor of Coral Bay by Robert H. Schomburgk. Schomburgk dedicated a print of his Coral Bay painting to Noble L. Usher, whose home on the point known as Usher’s Cay is featured in the picture.
"The images are important for understanding the island," Gibney said.
There’s even a section on old postcards and includes one of what was then called Caneel Bay Plantation, now Resort, circa 1948.
"St. John: Life in Five Quarters" was a year in the making, but the work reflects long-time efforts by the Historical Society to get information about St. John’s history to the public. The Historical Society has been around since 1974.
"Our mission right from the start was to identify, document, preserve, and share the wonderfully rich history of St. John," Schoonover said.
Several months ago, the non-profit group urged those interested in what the book would say to pre-purchase their copies to make publication possible. Schoonover said the presale was a big success and raised enough money to pay for the initial printing costs.
The publication comes just in time for March’s V.I. History Month.
"St. John: Life in Five Quarters" is for sale at a dozen gift shops and other locations around the island. Additionally, it’s available through the St. John Historical Society website at www.stjohnhistoricalsociety.org. The cost is about $30.