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Cinnamon Bay Self Guiding Trail

St. John Virgin Islands Trails: Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail

Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track © 2006 Gerald Singer

Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail Map
Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail Map

If you only have enough time on St. John to hike one trail, then the Cinnamon Bay Self-Guiding Trail is the trail for you. Also, because the trail is relatively short, flat and shady, it’s a perfect choice for those who would like to experience a taste of the St. John interior, but who might be put off by the prospect of a long hike on the often hilly and rugged terrain characteristic of the St. John forest. As an added bonus, the Virgin Islands National Park has placed a series of wonderfully informative signs along the trail covering everything from history and culture to nature and environmental concerns.

The one half mile Cinnamon Bay Self-Guiding Trail begins on the North Shore Road about ten yards east of the Cinnamon Bay Campground entrance on the opposite side of road and will lead you through the remains of an old sugar mill and bay rum factory. From there the trail circles through the surrounding forest and emerges back at the North Shore Road where you can observe the remains of the old estate house.

The Ruins
The twelve columns that at one time supported the factory storage room are plainly visible from the road. This stone structure was used for the storage of crude brown sugar called muscavado, molasses, barrels of rum, and crushed and dried sugarcane stalks called bagasse, which were used for fuel and fertilizer.

st john trails: horsemill
Horsemill
cinnamon bay sugar factory
Cinnamon Bay Sugar Factory

South of the storage room are the remains of the horsemill and the boiling house. The sugarcane crushing apparatus was in the center of the horsemill and from there the cane juice flowed down the trough and into the boiling room.

On the west side of the boiling room were the boiling trays where the cane juice was boiled down, transferred from copper pot to copper pot, and gradually thickened into sugar. The fires were stoked from the outside of the building. The large chimney still remains.

st john trails: bay rum distillary
Bay Rum Still

Bay Rum
On the southwest corner of the sugar factory is the well-preserved bay rum distillery.The Danish West India Plantation Company acquired Cinnamon Bay at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1903, they began growing fruit and bay rum trees for the production of the bay leaf oil, used in the popular cologne and lotion known as St. John Bay Rum. Fruit cultivation did not turn out to be economically rewarding because of the difficulty in transporting the fruit to the European market. The fruits would often spoil before they could be sold. Bay rum oil, on the other hand, showed some promise. It did not deteriorate rapidly and had the potential to be a profitable commodity. The success of this venture at Cinnamon Bay motivated other landowners on St. John to begin bay rum production. Harvesting bay rum leaves was a labor-intensive process. Workers, who were often young children, had to climb the trees and carefully strip off the leaves. All the leaves could not be picked off the tree at one time, and neither could the leaves be picked more than twice a year to avoid damage to the tree. The leaves were put into large sacks and brought to the distillery. The harvesters were paid eight cents for a 65-pound bag of leaves. (Read more about bay rum.)

The Forest Trail
From the bay rum distillery, the trail leads into the tropical forest and a magnificent stand of bay rum trees.

old danish cemetery at cinnamon bay
Cinnamon Bay Cemetery
st john trails: cemetery
NPS Sign on Trail

The Old Danish Cemetery
A short spur trail to the left leads to an old Danish cemetery. Anna Margarethe Berner Hjardemaal, the wife of a former owner of the estate, is buried here in an above ground tomb. Her husband, Nicolai Severin Hjardemaal, a Dane, became the owner of Cinnamon Bay in 1834.

The plantation was then called the America Hill Plantation. Hjardemaal's wife was born in St. Croix on November 7, 1785 and died at the age of fifty-one on November 27, 1836, just two years after she and her husband acquired the estate.

cinnamon bay loop trail: old danish cemetery
Cemetery on Cinnamon Bay Trail

Slaves on the plantation were not afforded such an elaborate interment. They were buried at the beach at Cinnamon Bay. The erosion of the shoreline and heavy ground seas has caused the remains of some the deceased to wash out into the bay. Divers have reported finding skulls and other bones under rocks and coral around the western portion of the beach and at the next beach to the west, Little Cinnamon Bay.

st john trails: mamme apple tree
Mammee Apple Tree

Mammee Apple Trees
Mammea americana, commonly known as Mammee, mammee apple, Mamey, mamey apple, San Domingo apricot or South American apricot, is an evergreen tree of the family Clusiacee, whose fruit is edible. The species is a close relative of the mangosteen (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). In his book, Me and my Beloved Virgin, Guy Benjamin describes the mammee apple:

“...brownish red globules covered with brown skin over golden yellow flesh with large seed. Very sweet o the taste, it makes a delicious preserve for tarts.”

 

 

cinnamon bay loop trail: dead mammee apple tree
Dead Mammee Apple Tree
cinnamon bay water works
Cinnamon Bay Waterworks

After about a quarter mile, the trail crosses the gut. In this area you may notice several extremely large dead trees, some still standing and others which have already fallen. These trees were mammee apple trees. As late as the early 1980s these magnificent trees lined the Cinnamon Bay portion of the North Shore Road and grew in abundance in the forest near the gut. The die-off may have been caused by a depletion of the underground water table in the 1980s when an unusual amount of water was taken from the wells.

 

 

st john trails: cacao tree
Chocolate

 

Chocolate Tree Cacao Tree, Theobroma cacao
A short distance after crossing the gut, the trail leads back in the opposite direction. The gut will now be on your right. Here is a small stand of cocoa trees, which grow a seedpod from which chocolate is derived. The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, is a native of the Americas. The brown pods that protrude from the trunk and branches of the tree contain the seeds from which chocolate is made. The Cacao trees found growing alongside the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail may be the only ones on the island.

 

 

st john trails: guavaberry
Guavaberry Tree

Continuing along the trail, you will pass several large mango trees, which are hundreds of years old. These and other fruit trees were usually left standing when fields were cleared first for sugarcane production and later for cattle grazing and charcoal manufacture, and thus are some of the largest trees found on the island. On this side of the gut, look for the many guavaberry trees, which can be identified by their smooth, shiny bark that looks much like the bay rum tree, but with smaller leaves.

 

 

 

st john trails: calabash
Guavaberry Tree

The trail leads back to the estate house area of the plantation, and here you will find an excellent specimen of the distinctive calabash tree. The fruit of this tree, although not edible, is used to make bowls, purses and other handy items.

Estate House
The estate house is directly west of the sugar factory. In the early 1900s, it was demolished by a hurricane. The house was rebuilt with the walls and roof made out of galvanized steel. The caretaker of the property lived here until the summer of 1969.

cookhouse
Oven

 

Cookhouse
A cookhouse and oven are located west of the estate house. The oven was heated by burning coals or wood until the bricks became extremely hot. Then the ashes and remaining coals were swept out and the food was put in to bake.

 

For a brief history of Cinnamon Bay click here