By Nina York
The Centennial anniversary of the transfer from Danish to United States ownership of our Virgin Islands has arrived! Although the actual anniversary date is March 31, it is being commemorated on all three islands throughout 2017. A hundred years has brought many changes.
As is often the case, the transition was not easy. The military rule continued until 1931. Sugar production lagged from low prices, and income from rum sales dwindled during Prohibition in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933. U.S. citizenship was not offered to the population until 1927. President Hoover's naming the islands America's Poorhouse had a lot of truth to it.
After the end of World War II, which had not brought any direct attacks but still was a time of hardship for the islands, signs of brighter days were apparent. In the late 1940s, tourism became a new source of income, primarily from the U.S. mainland. At new hotels and guesthouses, visitors enjoying our spectacular beaches and colorful flora, along with a relaxed atmosphere and friendly population, transformed the economy that had depended on the increasingly unprofitable sugar cane industry.
A large work force, that had to be brought from other islands, involving special work permits and restrictions for the new hires, brought thousands to the island to work on the construction as well as the operation. This new influx of workers and engineers happened simultaneously with a large number of well-to-do continental Americans deciding to build or buy winter residences here, resulting in enormous growth and development. New homes, condominiums, roads, schools, shops, hotels, and restaurants mushroomed. There was barely time to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Transfer, but a major festivity did take place welcoming a large contingent of Danes, starting a new tourism source.
Even after another shock hit the island in 2012, at the closing of the oil refinery on St. Croix, there is still income from rum export, the reopening of the storage facility at the refinery location, our agriculture is increasing, our internet broadband connection is impressive, and tourism remains strong on all the major islands.
The Transfer Centennial Kick-Offs began in January and events continue with Historic Tours, Concerts, Cultural Expos, Receptions, Recognition Dinners, Parades, Galas, Lectures, Symposiums, Visiting Ensembles and Choirs, Arts and Crafts Fairs, Storytelling and Folklore, with Centennial Closing Ceremonies in December. St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are all offering many opportunities to participate in marking this milestone in our territory's history!.
For programs and events, visit www.vitransfercentennial.org