7 Places Every History Buff Should Visit on the U.S. Virgin Islands


World-famous for their physical beauty, the U.S. Virgin Islands deserve equal recognition as a historian’s paradise. On this scenic corner of the globe, you’ll find everything from pre-Columbian artwork, to mighty fortresses, to a 220 year-old synagogue. Grab some sunscreen and join us on a virtual tour of the islands, their landmarks, and their truly remarkable past.


With its white-sand beaches and vibrant forests, Virgin Islands National Park is a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors. The park began as a 5000-acre plot on the island of St. John, which was donated to the US government by esteemed philanthropist, Laurance Rockefeller, in 1956. Since then, it’s expanded to encompass around 60 percent of St. John and almost all of neighboring Hassel Island. Snorkelers gravitate towards the immaculate coastlines while hikers can enjoy more than twenty wonderful trails.

One such pathway offers us a glimpse at a bygone age. Near the Reef Bay trail on St. John lies a crystal-clear pool that’s surrounded by basalt boulders, many of which are dotted with man-made etchings known as petroglyphs. These were carved by the indigenous Taino people, who once occupied Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Florida, and—of course—the Virgin Islands. The so-called Reef Bay petroglyphs were most likely created sometime between 1000 and 1490 CE, although the very oldest may date all the way back to 500 CE. The historic markings are mainly located just above the water’s surface. As such, their reflections are clearly visible in the pool, which was probably a place of great spiritual significance. Those interested in checking out the site can reach it by taking Petroglyph trail—a short, 0.3-mile offshoot of the larger Reef Bay trail.


During his second expedition to the New World, Christopher Columbus and his 17-ship fleet dropped anchor at an island that he named “Santa Cruz” (now called St. Croix) on November 14, 1493. Upon his arrival, the explorer sent a landing party ashore to investigate. Navigating down the Salt River, Columbus’s men made their way to a practically vacant village. Here, they discovered a number of Taino prisoners who’d been captured by a neighboring people known as the Carib. The Spanish rounded up these detainees and started rowing them back to their fleet when a canoe filled with Caribs crossed their path. A violent clash then broke out; in the melee, one Spaniard was fatally wounded by an arrow.

This whole incident is noteworthy for two reasons. To begin with, it is said to be the first documented skirmish between Europeans and Native Americans. Also, it represents the only occasion in which any members of a Christopher Columbus-led voyage actually walked on what is now regarded as U.S. territory. The beach that they landed upon was designated as a national landmark in 1960. Located in northern St. Croix, the site is currently a part of the Salt River Bay National Park and Ecological Preserve.


The oldest extant structure on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Fort Christian was built between 1672 and 1680. Named after Denmark’s King Christian V, its original purpose was to protect the Danish settlers on the island of St. Thomas from marauders. But this was only the first of many roles that Fort Christian would play. Over time, the establishment has been repurposed as an administrative office, a church, and, more recently, the designated prison of Charlotte Amalie, the town in which it stands. In 1976, this grand facility was converted into a museum, with an exhibit hall opening up in the former dungeon. For the past 12 years, Fort Christian has been closed to the public due to extensive renovations. However, that certainly hasn’t stopped passersby from marveling at the iconic, red, brick-walled landmark.


By 1754, Denmark had acquired the whole of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas. Together, these three landmasses formed the bulk of the Danish West Indies, a territory that was later renamed the U.S. Virgin Islands when Uncle Sam bought it in the 20th century.

Denmark’s influence is still on full display throughout Christiansted—the largest city in St. Croix. On the waterfront lies a seven-acre complex maintained by the National Parks Service. Called the Christiansted National Historic Site, it boasts five of the area’s most historic Danish structures. Let’s begin with Fort Christiansvaern. Finished in 1749, this stronghold was used to keep pirates at bay and to put down potential slave rebellions. Like Fort Christian on St. Thomas, it was eventually demilitarized; in 1878, the building was transformed into a police station and courthouse. At one point, Alexander Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Faucette Buck, was imprisoned there when her first husband accused the woman of infidelity.

Once you’ve explored the fortress, head on over to the Danish West India & Guinea Company warehouse. Chartered by the royal government in Copenhagen, this organization monopolized trade in Denmark’s Caribbean colonies from 1671 to 1755. The company was headquartered at the St. Croix warehouse, which doubled as its main storage space.

Also on-site are a wooden weighing house (wherein imports were measured), the old Danish custom house, and the Steeple Building, which was the first St. Croix church to ever be constructed by the Danes.


This is one of the oldest continuously-running synagogues on U.S. soil and the second-oldest in the western hemisphere. During the Charlotte Amalie-based Synagogue’s first seven years, its membership increased from nine to 22 families—with the majority being of Spanish descent. Over the centuries, the St. Thomas congregation has met in several different buildings. Their current venue dates back to 1833 and, although it was restored in 2000, this facility still retains its original interior woodwork. On the very same city block, you can explore 300 years of local Jewish history at the Weibel Museum. Both are open to the general public on every day but Sunday.


Denmark’s authority in the West Indies wasn’t uncontested. When the Napoleonic Wars broke out, the Danes allied themselves with France. Naturally, this drew the ire of Great Britain. In retaliation, the UK dispatched 4000 men to occupy all of the Caribbean islands under Danish control. Overwhelmed by these forces, Denmark surrendered St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John in March 1801.

Britain reigned supreme over the West Indies for a ten-month period. A visible reminder of this brief but influential era can be found on Hassel Island. To defend St. Thomas, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Shipley oversaw the construction of a guardhouse on Hassel’s highest point. Nicknamed “Shipley’s Battery,” the structure was a C-shaped stone wall designed to house as many as five seaward-facing cannons. Its remains can still be seen in their original location today.


Slavery was formally abolished in the Danish West Indies on July 3, 1848, several years before it was abolished in the continental U.S. To honor the 150th anniversary of that historic day, a commemorative garden opened in downtown Charlotte Amalie in 1998. Visitors are greeted with a Liberty Bell replica and a bronze sculpture that depicts a former slave triumphantly blowing upon a conch shell as he celebrates his newfound freedom.

There’s more to the U.S. Virgin Islands than gorgeous beaches (although they’ve got plenty of those, as well). Rich culture, delicious food, and incredible history await you, too. Click over at VisitUSVI.com for more info about the Islands’ upcoming Centennial Commemoration.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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15 Fascinating Facts About Julia Child

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Julia Child was much more than just a bestselling cookbook author and chef. Over the course of her life, she was also a breast cancer survivor, a TV trailblazer, and a government spy. It's the famed chef's spy game that will be the focus of Julia, a new series being developed by ABC Signature and created by Benjamin Brand.

The project will draw its inspiration from Child's PBS program Cooking for the C.I.A. “I was disappointed when I learned that in this case, the C.I.A. stood for the Culinary Institute of America,” Brand told Deadline. “Cooking Secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency always seemed like a more interesting show to me. Many years later, when I read a biography of Julia Child and learned about her experiences during World War II, working for the Office of Strategic Services—the precursor to the C.I.A.—the story of Julia quickly fell into place.”

Though Julia will be a work of fiction, here are 15 facts about the beloved cook, who was born on August 15, 1912.

1. Julia Child met the inventor of the Caesar salad when she was a kid.

As a preteen, Julia Child traveled to Tijuana on a family vacation. Her parents took her to dine at Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, so that they could all try his trendy “Caesar salad.” Child recalled the formative culinary experience to The New York Times: “My parents were so excited, eating this famous salad that was suddenly very chic. Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” Years later, when she was a famous chef in her own right, Child convinced Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, to share the authentic recipe with her.

2. The WAVES and WACs rejected Julia Child for being too tall.

Like so many others of her generation, Child felt the call to serve when America entered World War II. There was just one problem: her height. At a towering 6'2", Child was deemed “too tall” for both the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC). But she was accepted by the forerunner to the CIA, which brings us to our next point.

3. Julia Child was a spy during World War II.

Child took a position at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was basically the CIA 1.0. She began as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, where she worked directly for the head of the OSS, General William J. Donovan. But she moved over to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, and then took an overseas post for the final two years of the war. First in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and later in Kunming, China, Child served as the chief of the OSS Registry. This meant she had top-level security clearance. It also meant she was working with Paul Child, the OSS officer she would eventually marry.

4. Julia Child helped develop a shark repellent for the Navy.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Child was in the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she helped the team in its search for a suitable shark repellent. Several U.S. naval officers had been attacked by the ocean predators since the war broke out, so the OSS brought in a scientist specializing in zoology and an anthropologist to come up with a fix. Child assisted in this mission, and recalled her experience in the book Sisterhood of Spies: “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.”

5. Julia Child got married in bandages.

Once the war ended, Julia and Paul Child decided to take a “few months to get to know each other in civilian clothes.” They met with family members and traveled cross-country before they decided to tie the knot. The wedding took place on September 1, 1946. Julia remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before.” She wasn’t kidding; she actually had to wear a bandage on the side of her face for her wedding photos. The New York Review of Books has one of those pictures.

6. Julia Child was a terrible cook well into her 30s.

Child did not have a natural talent for cooking. In fact, she was a self-admitted disaster in the kitchen until she began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she and Paul lived for several years. Prior to her marriage, Child simply fed herself frozen dinners. It was probably the safest choice; one of her earliest attempts at cooking resulted in an exploded duck and an oven fire.

7. A lunch in Rouen changed Julia Child's life.

Child repeatedly credited one meal with spurring her interest in fine foods: a lunch in the French city of Rouen that she and Paul enjoyed en route to their new home in Paris. The meal consisted of oysters portugaises on the half-shell, sole meunière browned in Normandy butter, a salad with baguettes, and cheese and coffee for dessert. They also “happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé” over the courses.

8. It took Julia Child nine years to write and publish her first cookbook.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking revolutionized home cooking when it was published in 1961—but the revolution didn't happen overnight. Child first began work on her famous tome in 1952, when she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The French women were writing a cookbook aimed at teaching Americans how to make French cuisine, and brought Child on board as a third author. Nine years of research, rewrites, and rejections ensued before the book landed a publisher at Alfred A. Knopf.

9. Julia Child got famous by beating eggs on Boston public television.

Child’s big TV break came from an unlikely source: Boston’s local WGBH station. While promoting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child appeared as a guest on the book review program I’ve Been Reading. But rather than sit down and discuss recipe semantics, Child started cracking eggs into a hot plate she brought with her. She made an omelette on air as she answered questions, and viewers loved it. The station received dozens of letters begging for more demonstrations, which led WGBH producer Russell Morash to offer Child a deal. She filmed three pilot episodes, which turned into her star-making show The French Chef.

10. All of Julia Child's essential utensils were kept in a "sacred bag."

According to a 1974 New Yorker profile, Child carried a large black canvas satchel known as the “sacred bag.” Rather than holy artifacts, it contained the cooking utensils she couldn’t live without. That included her pastry-cutting wheel, her favorite flour scoop, and her knives, among other things. She started using it when The French Chef premiered, and only entrusted certain people with its care.

11. Julia Child survived breast cancer.

Child’s doctors ordered a mastectomy in the late 1960s after a routine biopsy came back with cancerous results. She was in a depressed mood following her 10-day hospital stay, and Paul was a wreck. But she later became vocal about her operation in hopes that it would remove the stigma for other women. She told TIME, “I would certainly not pussyfoot around having a radical [mastectomy] because it’s not worth it.”

12. Julia Child's marriage was well ahead of its time.

As their meet-cute in the OSS offices would suggest, Paul and Julia Child had far from a conventional marriage (at least by 1950s standards). Once Julia’s career took off, Paul happily assisted in whatever way he could—as a taste tester, dishwasher, agent, or manager. He had retired from the Foreign Service in 1960, and immediately thrust himself into an active role in Julia’s business. The New Yorker took note of Paul’s progressive attitudes in its 1974 profile of Julia, noting that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” He continued to serve as Julia’s partner in every sense of the word until his death in 1994.

13. Julia Child was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America's Hall of Fame.

Child spent her early years working for what would become the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1993, she joined another CIA: the Culinary Institute of America. The group inducted Child into its Hall of Fame that year, making her the first woman to ever receive the honor.

14. Julia Child earned the highest civilian honors from the U.S. and France.

Along with that CIA distinction, Child received top civilian awards from both her home country and the country she considered her second home. In 2000, she accepted the Legion D’Honneur from Jacques Pépin at Boston’s Le Méridien hotel. Just three years later, George W. Bush gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

15. Julia Child's kitchen is in the Smithsonian.

In 2001, Julia donated the kitchen that Paul designed in their Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Although it’s not possible to walk directly through it, there are three viewports from which visitors can see the high counters, wall of copper pots, and gleaming stove. Framed recipes, articles, and other mementos from her career adorn the surrounding walls—and, of course, there’s a television which plays her cooking shows on loop.