Members of the 31st Legislature heard testimony Monday evening on a bill that would commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cruz Bay. If passed, the bill would also direct some entities of the executive branch to assist in marking the anniversary.
Sen. Myron Jackson sponsored Bill 31-0449, which was presented before the Legislature’s Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation at the St. John Legislative Annex.
Jackson said the motivation behind the bill was largely born from discussions regarding the addition of Cruz Bay to the National and Territorial Registries of Historic Places, which would give it the same designation as historic districts in Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted and Frederiksted.
Jackson said that during the years when the Virgin Islands’ other town centers were nominated as historic districts, Cruz Bay was not felt by those tasked with preservation to have significant enough historical resources to qualify. But that impression has changed over the last couple decades.
Testifying at Monday’s hearing, acting State Historic Preservation Office Director Sean Krigger said his office funded a survey in 2013 and 2014 to revisit the idea of designating Cruz Bay as a historic district. The results of the project “have clearly demonstrated that Cruz Bay holds substantial historical and cultural significance on both the national and territorial level,” Krigger said.
He said that in 2015 SHPO funded a nomination of Cruz Bay to the National Registry of Historic Places that was then submitted to the U.S. National Park Service for review and approval. If approved, he said, it will correct a gross oversight in the territory’s preservation plan.
“This oversight has placed Cruz Bay’s highly significant historic and cultural resources in great peril and has hindered community-based efforts to preserve and protect important vestiges of Virgin Islands heritage,” Krigger said.
Although Jackson’s bill is not directly related to designating Cruz Bay as a recognized historic district, he said its goal is to help draw attention to the cultural patrimony of the town, which was established in 1766.
The bill notes that prior to the emancipation of slavery in the Danish West Indies, Cruz Bay was primarily populated by free people of African descent. Unlike other towns in the territory, “its remote setting and small natural harbor set it apart from established networks of international trade and commerce,” the bill reads.
While a call for recognition of the anniversary of Cruz Bay’s founding was enthusiastically endorsed by all testifiers at Monday’s hearing, representatives of two of the entities tasked with helping commemorate the anniversary expressed concerns about mandates contained in the bill.
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty and Transfer Centennial Commission Chairwoman Pamela Richards-Samuel said that being tasked to collaborate with the Office of the Governor on a commemoration ceremony and creating marketing for the event would potentially further strain resources that are already spread thin.
“We must be honest that the distribution of both financial and human resources is a great concern,” said Nicholson-Doty. “The Department of Tourism does not have cultural or historic preservation under its mandate although it believes it is integral to the industry.”
Despite her concerns about the proposed funding source for a commemoration – the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund – and what she said was some unclear language in the bill, Nicholson-Doty said Cruz Bay’s anniversary is well worth recognizing as an important milestone.
Richards-Samuel spoke similarly on behalf of the Transfer Centennial Commission, which the bill also identifies as a collaborator in the commemoration.
“It is not in our mandate to undertake the planning of yet another activity,” said Richards-Samuel. “I remind this institution that our commission is a 17-member volunteer board who do not receive compensation for the enormous charge that we have already taken.”
Richards-Samuel said she supported the formation of a separate body to work on developing plans for a commemoration of Cruz Bay’s 250th anniversary, one that the centennial commission would gladly partner with.
Jackson said his bill was not intended to be a hardship or an “awesome task” for the entities named in the bill and that he envisioned the commemoration as part of the Centennial celebration, not an addition to it. Jackson said he felt if the milestone went unrecognized it would be “a travesty,” but that he would take the concerns expressed by testifiers into account in revisiting the bill.
“If you sense any frustration on the part of Sen. Jackson it is related to the issue of the lack of diligence in the area of the promotion of our history, our culture, our sites of memory, collective memory and the like,” Jackson said.
Director of Cultural Education at the Department of Education Valrica Bryson and St. John Festival Committee Chairwoman Leona Smith both stated that they were in support of the bill and that their entities would assist in a commemoration of Cruz Bay’s founding.
Also testifying in support of the bill were Larry Wilson, member of the board of the St. John Historical Society, and Priscilla Hintz Knight who read testimony by historian David Knight Sr., who was outside the territory.
In addition to Jackson, Sens. Marvin Blyden and Tregenza Roach were present at the hearing. Sens. Sammuel Sanes, Novelle Francis Jr. and Kenneth Gittens were absent, with Gittens and Francis being excused. Sen. Positive Nelson arrived at the hearing as discussion of Cruz Bay’s commemoration was drawing to a close.
At Monday’s hearing, senators also heard from Ian Samuel, recreation officer with the Department of Sports and Recognition, who provided an update on the department’s ongoing renovations to St. John’s recreational facilities.