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St John  trails: bay rum still

St. John USVI Trails: Bordeaux Mountain Trail

Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track © 2006 Gerald Singer
bordeaux mountain trail map
Bordeaux Mountain Trail Map

The Bordeaux Mountain Trail runs between Lameshur Bay and the Bordeaux Mountain Road. Centerline Road is 1.7 miles from the point where the trail meets the Bordeaux Mountain Road. The Bordeaux Mountain Trail is 1.2 miles long and there is a change in altitude of about 1,000 feet. The grade is, therefore, quite steep. It can be strenuous going uphill and slippery going down. The trick to enjoying this walk is to be sure to pace yourself, watch your footing, and bring sufficient water and sun protection.

The view from the intersection of Centerline Road and the Bordeaux Mountain Road, near the Chateau Bordeaux Restaurant was chosen as one of the “Ten Best Views” in the Caribbean by Caribbean Travel & Life in their April 1996 Tenth Anniversary Issue.

Lameshur Bay Estate
At the bottom of the trail are the ruins of the old Lameshur Bay Plantation. Exploring these ruins, you will find the bay rum distillery, the sugar factory and the boiling bench. You will also find a residence, a well, and an animal trough that dates back to the more recent subsistence farming days on St. John.

In the early part of the twentieth century, this estate was dedicated mainly to the production of bay rum oil. Bay rum trees were cultivated on the upper regions of Bordeaux Mountain, where you will see (and smell) many of these smooth-barked, aromatic trees. This trail was once used to transport the bay rum leaves harvested on Bordeaux Mountain, via donkeys, to the bay rum distillery located at the beach at Lameshur Bay.

St John  trails: Lameshur Bay Estate House
Lameshur Bay Estate House
St John  trails: Lameshur Bay Estate House Cistern
Lameshur Bay Estate
House Cistern

The Estate House
The Estate House for the Lamesur Bay Estate, located at the rangers station along the Bordeaux Mountain Trail is the oldest estate house that is still lived in on St. John.

The Ranger who lives there allowed the St. John Historical Society to view the interior of the house on one of their guided hikes, but he left this advisory posted on the front door:

The Trail
If you begin your walk from the beach, the first part of the trail will be the steep four-wheel-drive road leading up to a National Park ranger residence. A picturesque old stone wall covered with bromeliads lines the dirt track. Just about a quarter mile from the beach, the trail forks with the road to the ranger residence turning off to the right and the Bordeaux Mountain foot trail continuing up the mountain. The trail is rocky and steep as it climbs along the western edge of the Great Lameshur Bay Valley. Occasionally, swales made of rocks cross the path. These rudimentary conduits serve to divert rainwater across the trail instead of allowing it to flow directly down the trail. Thus, the swales serve to prevent rutting and erosion, which would normally result when the natural vegetation has been disturbed.

St John  trails: Lameshur Bay Estate House note
note to hikers

Look for a sign with information about the Bordeaux Trail Rehabilitation Project. About 100 yards past this sign, you will find a seat, suitable for one person, made of dry stacked stone with a flat top. Take advantage of this rustic resting place, which was put together by the trail crew. You should find more of these seats along the way, though some have been damaged by hurricanes.

When the trail turns toward the right, you will come to a large tree growing by the side of the path, next to which are some flat rocks to sit on. Growing out of the tree is a strangler fig. There is a beautiful view from here, which looks down into Great Lameshur Bay and out at Yawzi Point between Great and Little Lameshur Bays. To the southeast is an excellent view of Ram Head Point. Just before the trail switches back to the left for the first time, there is a narrow spur trail to your right. This leads to a small, shady plateau and the remains of a charcoal pit. Look for a tamarind and a genip tree and a small stand of teyer palms. The ground cover is love leaf.

Ascending the trail from here you will pass an area of pinguin, or false pineapple, a spiny plant that produces an edible citrus-like fruit. Notice how the environment changes with the elevation; the higher up you go, the more moist and forest-like it becomes. Leaving the cactus scrub surroundings of the lower trail, you will pass through a dry forest environment with characteristic vegetation such as genips, easily identifiable turpentine trees with their reddish, shiny bark and the attractive black caper. As you progress up the trail and the environment becomes even more humid, you will begin to see the many bay rum trees planted in the early 20th century to supply the distillery at Lameshur Bay with their aromatic oil-rich leaves.

You may find another stone seat at this higher elevation, also made by the trail volunteers. From here you can see over the saddle in the mountains to the Sir Francis Drake Channel and British Virgin Islands. After a few more switchbacks through the shady forest, you will reach the end of the trail, which emerges at the Bordeaux Mountain Road.

Bordeaux Estate
Across the road are the ruins of the Bordeaux Plantation. The sugar factory was built between 1790 and 1820, during St. John's best sugar production years. It was a T-shaped factory representative of that period. In this case, however, a piece of the “T” is missing. It was destroyed by the road crew during the construction of the Bordeaux Mountain Road. The boiling bench is still visible, as well as two rum stills and two cooling cisterns. Parts of the canning room also still exist. On the other side of the road are the remains of a slave village. The estate house for the plantation is up the hill on a knoll. There are three well-preserved graves near the estate house.

The plantation was founded by Thomas Bordeaux in the 1720s. He was a Frenchman who came to the Danish West Indies, now known as the United States Virgin Islands, along with other Frenchmen as a result of the revocation of the Edict of Mann, which prohibited the French government to persecute the Protestants known as Huguenots. Thomas Bordeaux, who was a prominent citizen in St. Thomas, came to the Danish West Indies directly from France. Although he was the owner of the property, he probably never lived on the plantation. Bordeaux Plantation was later owned by Jean Malville, a Moravian of French ancestry. Malville was born in the Danish West Indies and became the first native-born governor of the islands. During the time of his ownership the plantation was called Malvilleberg.