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The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library & Museum

St. John USVI Places: The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library & Museum
Excerpted from St. John Off the Beaten Track © 2006 Gerald Singer

The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum is located in the renovated Estate Enighed (pronounced EN nee high) greathouse in Cruz Bay. To get there from town, make the third right turn after the Texaco Station going east on Route 104. The library and museum are at the end of the road.

The library is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday. For information, call (340) 776-6359.

The library’s Caribbean collection has a great deal of information on St. John, the other American and British Virgin Islands and the Caribbean in general. A room on the lower floor is used for a children’s library and reading room.

estate enighed sketch
Elaine Ione Sprauve Library & Museum

Estate Enighed
The first recorded owner of Estate Enighed was William Wood, an Englishman who was born on the Dutch island of Saba in 1692. He came to St. John with his family sometime in the 1750’s and became the owner of the estate. William Wood died on St. John in 1757, and his grave can be found on the Estate Enighed property in back of the library.

Until about 1837, Estate Enighed was dedicated to sugar production. At the peak of the estate’s prosperity in 1803, it consisted of 225 total acres; 110 acres were planted in sugar, and 15 acres were devoted to provision grounds and pasture land.

Structures included the estate house, cookhouse, sick house, 30 “Negro houses” and a sugar factory with a boiling room, horsemill, rum still, storage house and curing house. There were 64 slaves working on the plantation.

The viability of sugar production as an economic activity began to deteriorate in the nineteenth century, and Estate Enighed, whose fortune was then closely tied to the sugar industry, also began a period of steady decline.

Gradually, sugar cultivation was phased out. After the emancipation of the slaves on St. John in 1848, sugar cane was no longer planted, and the estate was dedicated entirely to cattle, provision farming and charcoal.

Labor Laws
The post emancipation era on St. John was characterized by a series of rigid, confusing and outmoded labor laws. Workers had to sign yearly contracts with their employers, and a maximum wage of two dollars per month was mandated. Many laborers failed to renew their contracts because other more profitable or desirable options existed.

In St. Thomas, for example, labor laws were not enforced, and much higher wages were paid. Laborers were, therefore, tempted to flee St. John in order to work in St. Thomas.

One man, who was returned to St. John after being apprehended in St. Thomas, reported that he had been working at the St. Thomas harbor for $1.25 a day. This was a far better wage than the $2.00 a month paid on St. John.

Another escape option for laborers was Tortola. On that British island it was possible to obtain land for farming. Moreover, right on St. John were hundreds of acres of abandoned sugar plantations, where workers could survive on their own by subsistence activities such as provision farming, charcoal production and fishing.

John Weinmar was one of the owners of Estate Enighed during this period. He tried to get laborers to stay and work on his land by offering more money. Colonial authorities would not allow him to do this. He appealed to the administration to change the laws, but his efforts were to no avail. Large scale farming, as an economic activity on St. John, became less and less feasible.

Division of the Estate
In 1883, Estate Enighed was sold to Judge Frederick Julius Colberg, and in 1898, to Judge Jens Peter Jorgensen. Both of these owners were Danish administrators from St. Thomas. They used the estate as a part time residence and country home, and the land was no longer cultivated.

In 1803, Estate Enighed was valued at $77, 000. By 1853, its value had declined to $6,000. The estate was sold in1874 for $822 and again in 1899 for $270.

The last resident of the estate house was a man called Scipio. He was a 73-year-old fisherman who was reported to have been living in the estate house in 1901 as caretaker.

Sometime between 1903-1905, a fire destroyed the roof of the estate house. It began accidentally when a caretaker named Howell was burning brush.

In 1918, Captain Alfred Benjamin (Benni) White bought Estate Enighed. He divided the land into smaller parcels and sold some of them. In April of 1920, Halvor “Neptune” Richards bought four acres, and in August of 1920, Athoner Moorhead bought 30.5 acres. In 1941, the remainder of the estate was sold to Alice Neilson, who sold it to the municipality of St. Thomas and St. John in 1944.

In 1945 and 1946 the municipality of St. Thomas and St. John broke up the remaining land and parceled it out to local Virgin Islanders such as Cory Bishop, Mario Wattlington, Sylvia Masac, Herman Smith, Christian Samuel, Josephine Williams and Vivian France. The government of the Virgin Islands kept the 0.6 acre of land containing the estate house ruins.

On April 16, 1982, the renovated estate house was dedicated as the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum.

The Construction of the Greathouse
The Enighed Estate house that existed in 1803 was severely damaged in the hurricane of 1837. It was renovated and expanded by St. Johnian stone masons John Bernadine Sprauve and George Nissen. The dwelling was repaired again sometime in the 1870s by George Nissen.

John Bernadine Sprauve was born on St. Thomas in 1811. He held the rank of Sergeant Major in the Brand Core of Free Negroes. He came to St. John in the early 1840s and married Amanda de Windt. In 1860, he acquired the waterfront property at 4A Cruz Bay Quarter. The walls of this house, located just before Wharfside Village, are still standing. Mr. Sprauve died in the 1860s.

George “Boss” Nissen, was the great grandfather of the Boynes brothers of St. John. He was born in Africa around 1810. He learned to be a stone mason in St. Thomas and was able to save enough money to purchase his freedom. He moved to St. John in 1839 and continued to work as a mason. He married Marion George of St. John and lived on the island until his death in 1903. He worked on several old St. John Estates and was reported to be “always working around and fixing old places.