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Walks in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Water Island, U.S. Virgin Islands
There are several military structures on Water Island; mainly ammunition bunkers and platforms designated as possible light or gun emplacements. The ammunition bunkers are built into the north side of Carolina Point. Some structures are on private property.
Fort Segarra is an underground fort, part of the United States' defense strategies during World War II. Its purpose was to help protect a submarine base on St. Thomas. The war ended before its completion and the project was subsequently abandoned. Visitors to Water Island can view gun emplacements, walk inside tunnels and visit underground rooms. The observation deck on the roof of the fort offers a great panoramic view of Water Island, the ocean and neighboring islands.
Water Island is the oldest of the Virgin Islands and the Water Island Formation is the oldest geological formation --probably Lower Cretaceous -- about 70 million years old. The Water Island Formation consists of about four fifths keratophyres which are brownish rocks and about one fifth spilites which are bluish rocks (commonly called Blue Bit or Blue Bitch). Both were lava flows deposited under water on the bottom of the ocean and later upheaved above the surface after solidification. There are small quantities of other rocks and minerals. Over long periods of time these rocks have decomposed, providing soil of varying thickness and composition.
The first known inhabitants were Taino Indians. There were four Indian campsites on Water Island, none of which were very large. Evidence of their habitation is revealed by Indian artifacts, including pieces of pottery, tools, piles of sea shells (contents consumed for food), charcoal and human bones.
The oldest inhabited site in the US Virgin islands in at Krum Bay - directly opposite Water Island.
The English archeological magazine "Man" carries an account of a number of skeletons of Indians that were found on Water Island during excavation work in 1934 and 1935. Subsequent analysis of charcoal from these Indian settlements indicates that these Indians lived on Water Island about 500 years ago.
It is not definitely known who the first white persons were who lived on Water Island. It is known that the pirates used to anchor in its bays out of range of the guns of the Danish Fort on St. Thomas and lie in wait for merchant vessels that were entering or leaving the port of St. Thomas.
Water Island gets its name from the fact that it was one of the few places in the Caribbean with fresh water ponds where sailing vessels could replenish their fresh water casks. Both the pirates and merchantmen were accustomed to coming to Water Island for water.
The earliest mention of Water Island in the Danish record of land titles in St. Thomas occurs in February 1807, when the Executor of the estate of Captain Peter Tamaryn, a Negro, sold one half share of Water Island, including 29 Negro slaves and cattle for 20,000 Danish Crowns to Captain Archibald Kerr. Captain Kerr sold the eastern share of Water Island to Baron Lucarde Bretton for 9,000 pieces of eight, Danish West Indian currency. In March 1819 there was a deed from Kerr to Baron Britton for the other half of Water island.
There were several transactions recorded in June 1830 when Plantation La Providence with buildings on Water Island was sold to Joseph Daniel. In 1851 there is a record of a deed to Joseph Daniel.
The eastern part of Water Island is called Caroline Lyst. In December 1859, this section was deeded to Joseph Daniel. This Joseph Daniel (the great grandfather of Christopher V. Daniel) was of Italian ancestry. He came to St. Thomas and changed his name to Daniel from the Italian D'Angielli. He owned and operated a shipyard in St. Thomas harbor.
During the War of 1812, the British occupied St. Thomas and used his shipyard to repair their ships and as headquarters for their efforts to suppress piracy. When the British were leaving St. Thomas, in recognition of his services, they gave Water Island to Joseph Daniel and made him a British subject. No record of this transaction is shown on the record of real estate transactions.
Upon the death of Joseph Daniel, Water Island passed to his five heirs but one of his sons, Christopher Daniel, administered the property as representative of the other heirs. During the time the Daniel family owned Water Island there was a boat landing on Providence Point at the place where the present Ferry Dock is located.
Treasure On Water Island
There were many rumors of treasure being buried on Water Island by the pirates to preclude its capture by the British and American warships which were constantly on the lookout for the pirates. Several attempts to recover this South American gold were made but without success. In the 1890's a stranger produced a rough chart of one of the bays of Water Island showing by a cross where a trunk containing doubloons had been buried by the stranger's father, who had been quartermaster of a pirate ship. The stranger suggested to Christopher Daniel that they join together and make an attempt to recover this buried treasure.
Daniel declined and several days later the stranger and his boat disappeared. Christopher Daniel organized a search party and went to the area where the treasure was supposed to be buried, which was on Flamingo Bay shore. There they found a sizable excavation about 4 feet deep and the remains of an old leather trunk. When Christopher Daniel turned the trunk over, one gold doubloon dropped out on the ground. He figured that the treasurer hunter had found the treasure and left one coin to indicate that he had found it.
The weight of the coins had made an impression on the sides and bottom of the trunk and careful measurements were made of these, from which it was calculated that the value of the treasure was between $50.000 and $60,000 (in a time when gold was $16 per ounce) It was presumed that the stranger had skipped town because under Danish law, one half of any buried treasure went to the Danish Crown. Whenever Christopher Daniel would tell the story, he would always produce his gold doubloon.
In 1905 the West Indian Co. Ltd. conceived the idea of making a business out of permitting foreign governments to use Water Island for maneuvers. Through their lawyer, Mr. Jorgensen. they made an offer of $21,000 for Water Island. Christopher Daniel did not wish to sell but was over-ruled by the other kin and the sale took place.
In 1917, The United States bought the Virgin Islands, including Water Island, and stopped its use as a foreign navy training ground. The West Indian Co., Ltd. made no attempt to develop Water lsland. From 1917 to 1944 was a time of quiet.
In June, 1944, the United States government, using its power of eminent domain, acquired title to Water Island for the sum of $10,000. It is ironic that the West Indian Company. Ltd.. held Water Island for 39 years, and sold it for less than half the sum they paid for it.
The U.S. Government began the construction of an Army base on Water Island. An underground fort and some 33 buildings were under construction, as well as docks, roads, water, sewer, and electric systems, when World War II ended. Construction stopped and the troops were withdrawn. In 1950, the island was abandoned.
Walter Phillips and the Hotel
In March 1951 Walter and Floride Phillips made a trip to the Virgin Islands looking for a place to retire. Water Island was available and that the Virgin Island Governments wanted it developed.
The Phillips' built a hotel in the Army buildings and converted many facilities to apartments and rooms. They groomed the beach and developed the system of roads. They subleased plots to friends who built houses - all knowing that the master lease would eventually expire.
In December 1965, Phillips sold the master lease for Water Island. its physical assets and its rights and obligations under the subleases to the Water Isle Hotel & Beach Club. Inc. whose president is Edward McArdle. He built a much enlarged hotel and made it a four star operation. He built and sold some private villas. Hurracaine Hugo struck and damaged the hotel with only two years left on the lease. McArdle terminated his lease three days before it was to expire and McArdle has been trying to recover the value of his improvements. The remainder of the houses are under self management.
December 12, 1996 marked the day that the US Government gave 50 acres of Water Island to the territorial Government of the Virgin Islands and the responsibility for all the common areas, the roads, beaches and the welfare of the people of Water Islands
Water Island is the fourth largest in size of the U. S. Virgin Islands, being about 2 ½ miles long and from ½ to 1 mile wide with an area of 500 acres. It is situated at the entrance to the harbor of St. Thomas and at the nearest point is about 3/8 miles off shore. The Island is very irregular in shape with many bays and peninsulas.
The highest point is 300 feet above sea level and there are fresh water ponds at the low point. There are several beaches, coves and rocky headlands. The large beach is one of the finest in the region. The soil is rocky and dry with acres of scrub brush, that live on the modest rainfall. There are approximately 100 private homes and families on the island. There are several bays. One has a town dock in a calm harbor, another has a magnificent beach and others have been left in their wild condition.
The island was a military site between the World Wars and there are buildings that date from that era. These have all been converted into homes or villas for the hotel. The island has power and telephone service from St. Thomas and the road base is fully developed. There is a 100 room hotel structure with tennis courts, recreation complex and marina that is currently out of use. The majority of the homes have been built during the period of the lease and are relatively new.
Water Island is separated from St. Thomas by a ½ mile wide stretch of water. It is close enough to draw on all of St. Thomas' life support.
There is a regular water taxi to a mainland marina and mall. The route continues into the city downtown waterfront. The marina/mall ride takes ten minutes. There is a major food store and gourmet shop in the mall as well as other typical mall shops. This proximity to St. Thomas also means easy access to all resources. The trip from the airport to the island takes less than 30 minutes.
Accessible from all major air hubs
Every major air hub in north America provides service to St. Thomas, which is a short trip from all major American locations. The trip from the airport to the island is also a breeze.
Stable Climate - All Year Round
The St. Thomas climate is legendary. Never cooler than 70 degrees Never hotter than 95 degrees. There is sunshine and blowing trade winds. It typically rains for a few minutes each day, but seldom for more then a few minutes.
The island has pristine clear water. The fish life is legendary and draws divers to explore the waters. There are no noxious bugs, no scorpions or poisonous snakes nor any unpleasant wildlife.
One of the principal attractions of Water Island is Honeymoon Beach. When Walter Phillips came to Water island, this beach extended for about 50 feet along the shore and about 10 feet back from the shoreline. The trees and brush were removed, 200 truck loads of rocks and gravel were hauled off. The sand was sifted to remove debris, a dredge removed the seaweed and deposited sand on the shore. Today, Honeymoon Beach, is a most beautiful beach. It is frequented by international boat traffic.
Power and Phone
The island is served by a series of underwater cables from the St. Thomas telephone and power companies. These systems are maintained by the public authorities.
There is no commerce on the island. In the past the hotel maintained a store with basics, but now there is no business at all. St. Thomas has it all from McDonalds at the mall, to Ralph Lauren.
Another important feature of the Island is the Water Island Botanical Garden. This is a brainchild and hobby of Walter Phillips. Plants from all over the world have been brought in and established. It is a member of the International Association of Botanical Gardens and of the Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.
The island is part of the US Territory of the Virgin Islands. It has its own US post office and zip code (00802). US law governs and the public administration is in the US chain of command.
The home owners range from retired couples to wind surfers and boat denizens to normal All-American families. They tend to be well educated and quiet. There is no poverty pocket or depressed area. There is no congestion.
Layout of a typical home
There are a dozen buildings that are based on the Army structures. These are long houses with 18" thick cement walls. They are spacious and cool. A typical floor plan looks like several apartments have been made from one building. Other Army buildings are single family dwellings.
El Canario by the Lagoon
Empress of the Seas
by Annette Tollett
Three of our club members, Barbara Washburn, Shirley Boyd, and I, as well as eleven other participants, recently participated in a Bad Pennies Club Caribbean cruise and volksmarch. We did two volksmarches: one thru Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and one on Water Island. Many past cruises in the Caribbean have done the Old San Juan volksmarch, but this was the first ever sanctioned volksmarch on Water Island.
The Old San Juan volksmarch toured most of the historical section of San Juan. We walked outside the old walls for a portion of the walk and then the rest was within the walls. We toured the El Morro fort, and walked by one other fort. The walk ends along the shopping area of Old San Juan. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it, the shopping district was closed by the time I arrived in the area.
On Water Island, we walked out to Carolina Plantation, where there is an old storage bunker from World War II. Also, we walked up to the old fort that is located on the island. Dee Schrum (from Lee Lepus Volksverband) and I managed to get separated from the group on this walk, so we walked up to the top of the hill on Water Island. There was little shade on this route so we got a good deal (burned) of sun.
After the Water Island volksmarch, we all took the ferry to Saint Thomas and some of us did some shopping. I, for one, spent a "little" money on some beautiful jewelry.
On Sunday, we had sailed to St. Marteen and here some of us did shopping, some tours. Dee and I went for a timeshare presentation that was really informative and interesting. No, neither of us bought a timeshare, but we were tempted.
We did some shopping in the afternoon and, again, I spent a "little" money on jewelry. I won't give you my definition of "little", but I do hate to see my credit card bill when it comes in.
On the ship, there was plenty of food to eat and the rooms were quite comfortable. For this particular cruise, the ship was our means of transportation (and our bedroom) from one island to the next. We left port in the evening and arrived at the next port in the early morning (about 7 or 8 am). We had one formal night in the main dining room where the participants of the volksmarch portion of the cruise proved that we can dress for dinner (if necessary). If you get an opportunity to go on a cruise and to volksmarch, as well, I would highly recommend that you take the cruise. It was a lot of fun in the sun (temperatures in the mid 80s in the afternoon and in the low 70s in the mornings). Of course, the ship was comfortable at all times.
On Monday, after arriving back in San Juan, Matt Pernick (President of The Bad Pennies) had made arrangements for us to do a land excursion to the Rain Forest and the Bacardi Rum factory. The rain forest was terrific. We even did a short walk (about three kilometers) down to a beautiful waterfalls and back up to a different parking area (wasn't an out-and-back). We saw lots of different types of trees and flowers, and a couple of small critters in the rain forest.
The Bacardi factory tour was okay, but since I don't drink, I didn't sample their wares at the end.
We had an interesting time getting back to the airport for our flight back to Washington DC. We were in rush hour traffic that reminded me of DC, except there was only two or three lanes (none of which were moving at times) that looked like parking lots. We all made it to the airport on time and caught our flight.
We left mid 80s temperatures to return to DC for the start of their really bad snow and ice storm (it was snowing when we left to drive back home the morning after our flight).
I, for one, want to thank Matt Pernick for all the effort and time that he put into the cruise and walks. He made the trip very enjoyable.
by Peggy Bercher
Sure, I had seen the flier for The Bad Pennies Adventure 37. Sure, a Caribbean cruise in February seemed like a great idea. There was just one problem. I had never been on a cruise before and I wasn’t completely sure if the whole idea appealed to me. But I let myself be persuaded by Betty Strawderman and Ruth Watkins to be their roommate and the next thing I knew, I was winging my way to San Juan to be part of a band of 14 Bad Pennies.
Upon arriving in San Juan, we made our way to our hotel, the El Canario by the Lagoon. In usual Bad Pennies style, we were given just a brief time to wash up and gobble, I mean eat, a quick meal. Once we gathered at the hotel again, off we went to walk in Old San Juan. It was a lovely albeit hot walk and we had the opportunity to see quite a few impressive sights. As we marched along the streets, we saw things like the Old City wall, which was built between 1635 and 1641, Casa Blanca, a mansion constructed for Juan Ponce de Leon between 1524 and 1530 and El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a mammoth fort.
Some intrepid Bad Pennies traveled to the top of the fort while others chose to stay below and admire the beautiful vista from a lower level. One very interesting fact is that many of the streets in San Juan are paved with adoquines, or small gray-blue blocks. According to the directions, the stones were cast from the residues of iron furnaces in Spain and used as ships’ ballast. It was a lovely variation of the cobblestones we have seen elsewhere in our travels. San Juan is also the place to shop although many of the businesses were closing for the evening when we passed.
Oh well, it helped us save some pennies for what was to come. That evening we had supper at Barrachina, a restaurant that advertises itself as the 1963 birthplace of the famous Pina Colada. The menu said to ask for a free sample but quite a few of us went whole hog and ordered one (or two) with our meal. I must say they were delicious!
The next day we said goodbye to the folks at the hotel and made our way to our water chariot, The Empress of the Seas. Launched on June 25, 1990, Empress of the Seas is 692 feet long and weighs 48,563 gross tons. It has a 2,000-guest capacity and while I’m not sure exactly how many people joined the Bad Pennies, the ship seemed pretty full to me. To ward off any possible germs, they had hand-sanitizing stations everywhere and gently “made” you clean your hands about a million times a day. The stuff must have worked because everyone remained healthy.
Our first stop on the cruise was St Thomas. We docked and were quickly herded off the ship. The plan was to find our chartered ferry, its pilot Steve, and make our way to nearby Water Island to do our second walk of the trip. With just a bit of fuss, we found both Steve and the ferry and were off. Steve lives on Water Island and as he took us to our destination, he told us some very interesting facts about the Island and the area in general.
As we approached Water Island, Steve pointed out the Communication Center. For such a small building, it serves a big purpose. Not only does it include mailboxes, a small lending library and notices about current events, as Steve put it, it was the place to hear all the island gossip. Water Island really is a pretty place but in my opinion one of the prettiest sights was Honeymoon Beach.
With its beautiful turquoise water and lovely white sand, the beach seemed to be calling to some of us and we answered. What a treat it was to wade in the water and think of the poor shivering souls at home. All too soon though it was time to put on our walking shoes back on and depart Water Island for some serious shopping in St. Thomas. Suffice it to say I have never seen so many jewelry shops in all my life. For a price, you can find just about any gem you wanted. After seeing lots and lots of sparkly things it was time to get back on the ship and head to our next port of call, which was St. Martin or St. Maarten.
After a repeat of the previous days herding, we were off the ship once again to see the sights. Some of us chose to take a tour of the island with a very entertaining driver named Victor. He was a font of information and really seemed to know quite a lot about all kinds of things. Who but Victor could have told us that on the Dutch side of the island the cows say, “Moo” but on the French side, they say “La Moo?” Who but Victor could have pointed out the practical reasons for having a funeral home directly across the parking lot from the hospital? In the course of touring the island he graciously stopped at an open-air market and gave us time to make some purchases. In what seemed to be no time at all we were saying au revoir and/or tot ziens to Victor and spending the time we had left just soaking in our surroundings. Too quickly it was time to be back on the ship to begin making our way to our port in San Juan.
Of course what Bad Pennies adventure would be complete without the traditional drawing to determine the Baddest Penny? The drawing was held during our last dinner on board. The lucky winner was Dee Schrum who received a lovely paperweight for her prize.
Early the next morning, we arrived in San Juan, said goodbye to the hand sanitizing stations and made our way through customs and off the ship. Matt had done a bit of sleuthing and had found a tour driver who would take us to see a rain forest and the Bacardi Rum distillery. Our first stop, the Caribbean National Forest has to be one of the loveliest places on earth. We began with a stop at a 69-foot high observation tower, Yokahu Tower that was supposed to offer a spectacular view of the rainforest.
After climbing a million steps (okay, so it was only 96), we had a birds eye view of 28, 000 acres of rainforest. It was spectacular and well worth the climb. Next we walked on a trail that gave us a brief tour of the rainforest close up. The end of the trail was a killer but it was a testament to how lovely our little tour was that no one whined (much) about not getting his or her books stamped. After a quick lunch it was on to our last stop of the trip, the Bacardi distillery. That was fun as well. As a measure of their hospitality, we were given tickets to “purchase” two drinks of our choice. I am now a fan of the mojito.
Finally it was time to return to the airport. Our trek there gave us quite a few anxious moments. Afternoon rush hour in San Juan is every bit as bad as any I have seen around the Washington D.C. area. You have never seen a group of people jump off a tour bus and unload luggage at the speed of light as we did that day. Fear of missing a flight sure can make you move FAST. I have never been so happy to see an airport terminal.
All in all it really was a wonderful trip. I spent time with some very nice Bad Pennies, I saw some beautiful places and I got to do one of my favorite things, volksmarch. What more could you ask of a Bad Pennies adventure?