Christiansted was founded in 1733 following the acquisition of St. Croix. The Governor Frederik Moth had been sent by the Company to determine where the port – and thus the town – should be located, where the best plantations could be built and how the Company should be organized.
The street grid consists of Strand Street, King Street, Company Street, Queen Street, Hill Street, East Street, and Fisher Street at right angles to Church Street, Queens Cross Street, Kings Cross Street, Prince Street and Market Street. The street names on St. Croix always were both in English and in Danish. The Danish names are: Strandgade, Kongensgade, Compagniets Gade, Dronningens Gade, Bjerg Gade, Østergade and Fiskergade at right angles to Kirkegade, Dronningens Tværgade, Kongens Tværgade, Prindsens Gade and Torvegade.
However, there was no central monumental square of the type one normally sees in a town in the Baroque style. Instead, two market squares were created where the slaves and the free coloured could sell their produce.
Fort Christiansværn was built east of the newly established town – first on the remains of a French fort, but this structure was destroyed by a hurricane in 1737. Between 1738 and 1749 the present fort was built with bricks from Denmark, with tollgates, a customs house and the Company warehouse, where disembarked Africans were auctioned off into slavery. In Christiansted, the fort and the Company buildings were the starting point for the development of the town.
Town houses in Christiansted were largely built as investments for the planters and the Company employees. It was common practice to rent houses to Europeans on short or long leases. The censuses show that there was a high turnover of residents in the houses.
Christiansted eventually acquired a number of religious buildings for the Lutheran as well as other Christian communities – for example the Moravian Mission Station, Friedenstahl, west of the city.
The socially integrated town
Christiansted had more socially mixed housing than Charlotte Amalie. Apart from the three streets closest to the fort, the town consists of large and small plots of land and houses. The free coloured artisans could acquire a narrow plot and build a modest, mainly timber-built house as early as the foundation of the town. This created a more open urban structure without social segregation or real enclaves.
The number of skilled craftsmen and free coloured in the town grew in the second half of the 1700s as a result of intensive construction activity. The slaves owned by the Company and its employees could build for their personal use. The growing number of free coloured craftsmen meant that dwellings were built in large numbers.
In 1746 Frederik Moth owned a carpenter named Peter Tongolo who was valued at 1000 dollars instead of the usual 400-600. He was a trusted site manager and a very skilful man. In 1749 he married, and in 1752 he bought his freedom from the estate of Frederick Moth, who had died in 1747. He was a relatively prosperous property owner and could buy his family, relatives and friends free of slavery, which he did to a great extent. He owned several houses in town as well as a small plantation named ‘Cathrina’s Hope’ after his wife.He participated in the construction of Schopen’s Kongensgade mansion, which is the Government building today.
The architecture of Christiansted
In the newly laid-out city, building started along the coast in Kongensgade and Strandgade. Like Charlotte Amalie it consists of long, narrow plots between the port and the first street of the town, parallel to the harbour. Generally the Christiansted plots, including the warehouse sites, are smaller than those in Charlotte Amalie.
The next streets in the town grid are Kompagniets Gade and Dronningens Gade. As it was desirable to own buildings at the end of the street leading into the space around the fort, von Plessen built a warehouse on the first plot in Kongensgade. In 1750 the Company factor Johan Wilhelm Schopen bought a plot of land in the same street and built a large, prestigious house in the Baroque style. The size and detail of the building demonstrated his skill as an architect and builder. It was his own private house, but the building was so magnificent that the Government took over the property after Schopen’s death and turned it into Government House.
Many of the buildings in Christiansted are constructed with the classic roofed galleries and archways. These features can be attributed to Schopen’s influence on the earliest, largest buildings on St. Croix. He came to the island in 1741 and lived there until 1768. At that time Frederiksberg Palace near Copenhagen was the epitome of Baroque architecture, and there we can see similar archways and fine architectural details around windows and doors. This building probably inspired Schopen in the design of the official urban architecture on St. Croix.
The streets of Christiansted resemble those of Danish provincial towns in their dimensions with their low houses and relatively wide plots, but not so much in style. Comparing contemporary Spanish, French and English towns, we can see that Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie have northern European dimensions, where each town dwelling has its own distinctive character. A wide two-storey house with an archway facing the street and a loggia on the first floor is characteristic. It is typified by a low hipped roof that the wind can glance off.
A representative house consists of a broad, two-storey brick building with a warehouse or shop behind a covered gallery supported by an archway at street level. The archways were mostly built in brick, indicating that the craft tradition of European Renaissance architecture had been extended to the colony. Although the round arch was later introduced, the more representative “basket-handle arch” is a persistent feature of the town house. The building tradition from the establishment of the colony probably continued relatively unaffected by developments in European architecture because it was not architects, but skilled craftsmen with a knowledge of traditional building techniques, who were in charge of the building.
The first floor of the town house is often a loggia, topped by a low hipped roof to mitigate the violent storms of the hurricane season.
Behind the house there may be a neat garden with shady trees, a pond and a few kitchen herbs.
Although Frederiksted was planned ten years earlier as a suitable point for shipping out the colony’s sugar production; the town as such was not founded until 1755-60.
At the time when St. Croix was acquired, the Company had already reserved the large plantation La Grange and the land down towards the coast for the construction of a seaport and a fortress at the west end of the island.
Like Christiansted, Frederiksted was designed on a grid with Strandgade, Kongensgade, Prindsens Gade, Dronningens Gade and Hospitalsgade running north to south at right angles to Dronningens Tværgade, Kongens Tværgade, Toldbodgade, Torvegade, Bjerg Gade and Fiskergade.
The Company’s surveyor, Jens Michelsen Beck, designed the grid for Frederiksted, which was approved by the Company in 1751. At the same time the town was named Frederiksted after the reigning King Frederik V. Initially the city was planned to be twice the size it later became. Between the two planned neighbourhoods the small Fort Frederiksværn was built in a large open space traversed by a rivulet flowing into a lagoon on the coast. Today the fort – now known as Fort Frederik – and a customs house on the harbour are the only buildings with some of the official character from the early years of colonization.
Shipping out the products of the plantations was the port’s main activity. The population of Frederiksted were dockers, ‘free coloured’ artisans and a few officials who could deal directly with the ships at anchor. This is why the town has neither warehouses nor merchants’ houses.
Despite the tax exemptions on building materials for the city, and although the fort was already finished by 1760, the development of the town was very slow. In 1766 only 341 people lived there. That is why the planned second half of the town was abandoned and the various religious communities built churches, mission houses and cemeteries on the outskirts. Around 1810-20 the waterfront promenade Strand Street was built, but the town still only had about 1500 residents.
An area for exclusive use as a market place was planned with larger or more monumental houses than the rest of the city, but it was never built.
The architecture of Frederiksted
Frederiksted was built to the same construction pattern as Christiansted, with relatively broad plots of land and sheltered galleries for pedestrians, but the streets are wider and the houses are lower than in Christiansted. Most houses are in brick, some were built with a second floor in timber, and the town’s relatively many ‘free coloured’ craftsmen built many dwellings with fine detail and craftsmanship, some of them associated with churches and mission stations. In Frederiksted it was easier for free Afro-Caribbeans to establish themselves in relative liberty than in other colonial towns.
The social structure is more clearly visible in Frederiksted than in Christiansted. Apart from Strand Street’s long, regular line of facades, all the streets have a number of smaller plots where the free Afro-Caribbeans often built their timbered houses. The house was extended room by room along a long narrow plot, and this gave rise to the name gunshot house, perhaps because the houses were long and narrow like shooting galleries.
Frederiksted suffered several devastating floods and hurricanes, but more destructive was the rebellion known as ‘the Fireburn’ in 1878, when poor rural workers set fire to most of the city. There are doubts about how much was left of the brick houses, but if you count the bays and arches in Hieltes’ view of the town from 1820, many of the houses today have the same number of columns and bays. In the registry of buildings they also cover the same square footage. Moreover, the existing dimensions of the houses and structures indicate that the old masonry core formed the basis for the rebuilding of the current buildings.
By 1878 Victorian colonial architecture had become fashionable, so Frederiksted is well equipped with timbered overhangs adorned with decorative borders, window frames and blinds in the style called ‘gingerbread’ – supposedly because it resembles decorated gingerbread.