The St. Thomas Historical Trust has opened its doors and is providing locals and visitors opportunities to learn more about museums, exhibits, and the culture of the territory through its tours and events.
Opened in 1966, the Historical Trust has initiated restoration projects, public-private partnerships, historic research, and community events in an effort to preserve the heritage of St. Thomas’ archeological and cultural past. Now, there has been a bigger push to support the organization’s mission.
William Gentilini and his wife, Liz Adams, currently handle most of the Historical Trust’s happenings. They moved to St. Thomas a few years ago and have since been residing on the island. They became a part of the St. Thomas Historical Trust and found great interest in the history of the island. Last year, they began training to do the tours that the organization offers under the leadership of Vincent “Doc” Palencia. Since January, they have spearheaded and offered weekly tours of downtown Charlotte Amalie, Hassel Island, and the Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, providing curious minds with some information on the history and wildlife in the territory.
“Now we get to work hard and actually see the fruits of our labor. Actually see that what we’re doing is impacting the community and making it better,” said Gentilini.
The Trust is the only tour agency to offer tours of the three accessible government sites on Hassel Island. Though visitors can tour parts of the island, not all of Hassel Island is approved for visitation because of restrictions from the National Park Service. Additionally, since the hurricanes in 2017, portions of the island under the supervision of the federal government still remain unkempt.
“It’s very sad because if we were stateside, all these sites would be given funding,” said Adams.
“Seventy-five percent of that island is National Park, but three sites are government-controlled and partnered with the Trust,” said Gentilini.
Efforts have been made on behalf of the Historical Trust to clean up positions under federal control but were denied.
The Historical Trust is also working to create a tour app for the downtown tours that they do, allowing users a virtual look of the island. Further, according to Gentilini, the organization is in “works” and “talks” to start doing St. John tours.
Currently, downtown walking tours are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Hassel Island tours on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and the Phantasea Botanical Garden on Wednesdays.
In addition to the tours, the Historical Trust operates out of a museum that houses artifacts that stem back to the Danish West Indies. Visitors are welcome to stop by on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to view sculptures, books, furniture, clothing, records, and more that detail the island’s history.
“There’s not a lot of libraries on the island right now. There’s not a lot of places where you could go, sit, read, and maybe withdraw books. Hopefully we can pick up that gap,” said Gentilini.
The Historical Trust has also attracted mature students of various ages through its caning and basket weaving classes, showing ways furniture and creative items have been made that impacted the daily lives of residents in the past.
This summer, the trust is partnering with the V.I. Police Department’s Police Athletic League to offer a historical downtown hike program for children. More upcoming projects for the Historical Trust include an exhibit that will work in coordination with the Postal Museum in London, featuring the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, and a program to connect local students with German students in Flensburg, discussing the topic of slavery in the West Indies. Also, they are working on cataloging and digitizing its entire library, making it easily available for anyone with an internet connection.
“The St. Thomas Historical Trust is dedicated to making history accessible to everyone and hopes that these events and activities will provide visitors and locals alike with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rich history of St. Thomas,” said Gentilini.
The Historical Trust is welcoming all visitors and is actively seeking volunteers to assist with its operations. Board members, a treasurer, and grant writers are sought. Walk into the museum at 5332 Raadets Gade or send an email to execdirectorstthomashistoricaltrust.org for more information.