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Profit from History

Property Owners Can Profit from History

With 185 potential landmark sites recorded, the BVI is poised to add historical tourism to its many attractions. In the past, ruins have been bulldozed or built over by landowners who did not see the value in a pile of old rocks and lime. At a recent seminar at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, Dr. Mitch Kent, historian and archaeologist, suggested that preserving landmarks can become a profitable venture for property owners while also educating visitors and residents about BVI heritage.


While close to 200 locations have been recorded, the only historical sites that are currently protected by the National Parks Trust are the windmill ruins at Mt Healthy on Tortola, Little Fort and Copper Mine Point on Virgin Gorda, and the wreck of the RMS Rhone off Salt Island. The Rhone is one of the most visited sites in the BVI and one of the top wreck dive sites in the world. For ruins that are not under the National Parks Trust umbrella, it is up to the landowners to decide how to protect and possibly profit from these sites.

There are currently some sites that are preserved by the families who own the property. The Callwood family, owners of the Callwood Rum Distillery in Cane Garden Bay, have maintained their historic distillery and continue to use it to make rum, much the same as it was made 200 years ago, and they sell it on the premises. As Dr. Kent spoke about the methods used for extracting sugar cane at the other old distilleries and mills, I imagined concession stands at these sites not only selling rum but also molasses or fresh sugar cane juice—few visitors have the opportunity to try this sweet, refreshing libation or to see how the juice is pressed from the cane stalks. The rum distillery ruins at Brewer’s Bay, which gave the bay its name, would be a prime spot for this type of attraction, especially since safari buses have started expanding their route beyond Cane Garden Bay to include some of quieter north shore beaches.

Another location steeped in history, prime to become a future preserved historical site, is St Phillip’s church in Kingston, which, according to Wikipedia, may be the oldest free black church in the Americas. Dr Kent has installed bracings against the walls and hopes to erect a roof above the ruins to protect it from the elements. “If you’re able to prove that it was the first purpose-built church for free Africans in the Americas, then a lot of religious organisations would put money towards the project,” Dr Kent said. He also suggested that motivated residents could hold fundraising events, such as car washes or bake sales, on the property that could amass donations from interested passersby.


The Fort Purcell Rehabilitation Project aims to open to the public the former military emplacement just off the coast road between Havers and Pockwood Pond. In May, a group of dozens of volunteers, including Governor Boyd McCleary, helped Dr Kent clear out the overgrown property which is more commonly known as "The Dungeons." Other sites that Dr. Kent discussed as potential landmarks included the Great House on Beef Island and Fort Charlotte above Road Town. Additionally, Dr. Kent recently discovered a ruin in Pleasant Valley that may well be the Great House of William Thornton, designer of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. If the site is confirmed as the home of the architect, it could quickly become a major tourist attraction, considering that it is likely that the house was the location where Thornton first drafted his designs for one of the most recognizable structures in the world. According to the Library of Congress website, “[Thornton] brought his first plans for the Capitol with him to Philadelphia from the Virgin Islands in October 1792.”


With the support of property owners, the many ruins in the BVI have the potential to become stops where tourists visit when they are here, or even destinations they seek when planning vacations. These tourists could learn about BVI history and culture while giving back to the territory by spending their holiday dollars on an educational experience.

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