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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 19, 2024
HomeCommentaryOp-Ed: Let's Give the Whim Museum the Same Attention as J'ouvert

Op-Ed: Let’s Give the Whim Museum the Same Attention as J’ouvert

This is on the backside of Estate Whim great house hurricane damaged. “ How can I approach this situation whereby an historic building is deteriorating every second of the day due to the natural elements of nature that have been compounded by the impact of a hurricane over 5 years ago? (Photo by Olasee Davis)
The back of the Estate Whim great house that was damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. It is now among America’s most endangered historic places. (Photo by Olasee Davis)

I read with interest that the Estate Whim Museum on St. Croix made it on the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. It is a good thing, I think, that Whim Museum was listed as an “Endangered Historic Place” because for too long this Caribbean gem of history in the American Virgin Islands has been setting there deteriorating into the rich Crucian fertile soil.

Olasee Davis
Olasee Davis (Submitted photo)

Believe me, pointing fingers at each other as to who is to blame for not getting Whim Museum restored would get us nowhere toward restoring the great house and other historical structures on the site that need attention.

In December 2023, I wrote a letter to support Estate Whim Museum to be placed on the “Most Endangered Historic Places” in America for 2024. With other concerned citizens of the St. Croix community determined to save Whim Museum, I attended a Zoom meeting which included the CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to discuss Estate Whim Museum’s dire need of repairs after Hurricane Maria in 2017, including recognizing structural damages to buildings and discussing how to go about bringing the condition of the great house and other historic structures to the public.

I am very blunt. I always say that the natural and cultural resources of the Virgin Islands are on the bottom when it comes to our government, regarding the preservation and protection of our history that connects us to historical structures made by slaves, enslaved Africans, and “free slaves,” such as the Whim plantation site. However, the government is also the people. Therefore, as one people, we are also responsible for Whim Museum preservation.

We are quick to talk about the Virgin Islands culture. Yet the management of our fragile environment, historical structures throughout the islands, and sacred sites of the Virgin Islands landscape are not a priority for the preservation of our cultural history. In my walk of life as an advocate for the preservation of our natural and cultural resources in the Virgin Islands, it is only a handful of people I observe trying to make a difference in the community regarding our culture and heritage. Yet for J’ouvert, there are thousands of people out on the streets having a great time behind local bands in one of our cultural events.

In it glory years, thousands and thousands of people locally nationally and internationally visited Estate Whim Museum great house. (Photo by Olasee Davis)
In its glory years, thousands and thousands of people locally, nationally and internationally visited the Estate Whim Museum great house on St. Croix. (Photo by Olasee Davis)

One wonders if we know that J’ouvert, which is literally translated as “the dawning of a new day,” is rooted in the celebration of freedom from slavery. As a people, we should show the same support to the preservation of our history and culture. Do you think we can get thousands of Virgin Islands residents to support Whim Museum restoration as they did in coming out for J’ouvert?

It is for this reason I do my part to help preserve our history, for the suffering and sacrifice made by our ancestors is uncomprehensible. Believe me, it is because of them why we are here today. There is no getting around it but telling it is as it is. As doing my part in preserving our Virgin Islands culture, here is a section of my two-page letter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

“It is an honor to write and support the nomination of Estate Whim Museum to the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Estate Whim Museum represents a layout of a colonial plantation agricultural system of the mid 1700s in the Danish West Indies. It is an important historic site in the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as of the United States due to its colonial West Indies architectural design built by the skills of enslaved laborers. The site has different historic structures such as 17th, 18th, and 19th century as the cook house, watch house, great house, animal, and windmills and steam engine first installed in 1865, and other structures important to the development and functioning of Estate Whim sugar plantation during the colonial era of the Danish West Indies.”

I continue by saying, “I consider Estate Whim Museum as Endangered Historic Place, which house the library, Caribbean genealogical and historical records where people from all over the world including locals used the materials for research, teaching, and learning about their ancestors and the role they played in the history of the Danish West Indies and early American rule of the islands since the transfer of 1917 to the present.

“Estate Whim Museum is a critical resource for our nation’s history and its people. If added to the list as an Endangered Historic Place, I believe it will bring attention to our government and the people of the Virgin Islands and our nation the importance of Estate Whim Museum as a gem in the Caribbean region and protection is necessary to preserve the history of the site. St. Croix has all the ingredients for a successful heritage tourism product, which Estate Whim Museum plays a major part by highlighting the golden age of the 1700s when ‘sugar was King.’

“It is disheartening to see the state of Estate Whim Museum today. As an American, we cannot allow such rich cultural history of Estate Whim to deteriorate in the dust of the earth. It is a sin not to do anything but save Whim Estate Museum for future generations. It is the right thing to do for those that made great sacrifices for all of us. By putting Estate Whim Museum on the list of Endangered Historic Places, it is my hope the glory of Whim be restored and be recognized in Virgin Islands and American history as a major place to always visit.”

This windmill at Estate Whim was at one time used to grind sugar cane. (Photo courtesy St. Croix Landmark Society)
This windmill at Estate Whim on St. Croix was at one time used to grind sugar cane. (Photo courtesy St. Croix Landmark Society)

Believe me, I have no political position to gain in speaking out on behalf of the preservation of Whim Museum. I look at myself as an ordinary citizen in the community with a sense of purpose in life, although Lisa Doward, who is a great advocate for our Virgin Islands culture, would say I am an “extraordinary bushman.”

Olasee Davis is a bush professor who lectures and writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when he is not leading hiking tours of the wild places and spaces of St. Croix and beyond.

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