Water Island, USVI
Water Island is approximately two miles in length and a mile in width with an area of almost 500 acres. Sheer cliffs line the exposed southern coast while deeply indented bays and beaches characterize the rest of the island. The 2000 census reports Water Island as having 161 permanent residents.
This rock formation on the south east corner of the island is often referred to by locals as Water Island's "Mount Rushmore."
The roads on the island are narrow and scenic. Some are paved others are dirt. Many of the inhabitants use golf carts and bicycles instead of cars to get around.
The paddle-wheeled Amalie Queen once served as the ferry for the Frenchman's Reef Hotel on St. Thomas. It was washed ashore on Water Island during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Magnificent views abound from all over the island.
Heidi's Honeymoon Grill serves lunch on the beach and on Saturday evenings Heidi serves a candlelight gourmet dinner. Mondays is Movie Night with hot dogs, popcorn and drinks.
There is scheduled ferry service between Crown Bay on St. Thomas and Water Island. The "Water Island Post Office" is right up from the ferry dock.
The island's sole police car is parked at the marina. In case the police are needed, they will come across to the island and will have a police car ready at their disposal.
Water Island was first inhabited, almost 3,000 years ago by Amerindian farmers, fishermen and gatherers who migrated from the South American mainland, traveling north through the Leeward Island chain. Their first known settlement upon reaching the Virgin Islands was at Krum Bay, just across the harbor from Water Island. These first settlers arrived
In the 16th century, Water Island was frequented by pirates, fishermen, woodcutters and explorers seeking the fresh water that happened to be available on the island, hence the name “Water Island.”
In the 18th century, much of Water Island was purchased by free blacks, who managed cotton plantations and raised livestock.
During the 19th Century, the island was dedicated primarily to raising livestock and provision farming.
Water Island was purchased by Danish East Asiatic Company in 1905 for a price of $21,000. The company retained title after the Virgin Islands was transferred to United States control in 1917. Fear of Germany during World War II and a desire to protect the Sub Base on St. Thomas prompted the United States to initiate condemnation proceedings leading to the acquisition of Water Island by the US Government in 1944. The Danish East India Company was compensated to the tune of $10,000.
Upon the acquisition of the island the United States began construction of Fort Segarra, a barracks, some 30 other support buildings and related infrastructure, such as docks, roads, cisterns and sewage and electrical systems.
Two artillery emplacements overlooked the harbor and surrounding sea.
The fort was built underground with only the watch tower protruding slightly above the hilltop.The tower is reached by a steel ladder imbedded in the wall. Once inside you can look out through the narrow opening that could be closed off with steel shutters.
Today there is a bench on the top of the tower where people can sit and enjoy the spectacular view.
Weapons were stored in two underground bunkers on other parts of the island.
After the end of World War II, Water Island was turned over to the
Chemical Warfare Division of the US Army. In 1979 declassified documents
revealed that the US Army secretly conducted biological and chemical
testing on Water island and St. Croix.
In 1950 Water Island was turned over to the US Department of the Interior who shortly thereafter leased the island to Water Island Inc. a Virgin Island Corporation formed by a Continental by the name of Walter Phillips for a term of 40 years at a cost of $3,000 a year.
At the termination of the lease the lands were sold to the lease and sublease holders and in 1996, Water Island became the official fourth Virgin Island and is primarily residential.
Phillips first visited Water Island on an offshore excursion with his friend, author Herman Wouk. They found only one man living there who tended goats, the rest of the island was uninhabited, The remains of army installations during the past decade were abandoned. Fascinated by the natural beauty and somewhat remote location, Phillips became interested in securing the island for himself.
Phillips created the Virgin Islands Corporation, Water Island Inc. and managed to secure a 40-year lease from the Department of the Interior promising to develop the island.
Phillips, who became known as the “father of Water Island,” brought in generators for electricity and laid sheets of galvanized on a hillside for water. He converted existing Army buildings into a successful hotel, improved the roads and other infrastructure and sublet plots of land to friends and acquaintances.
Phillip’s adventures and misadventures as a hotelier provided his friend, Herman Wouk, with much of the inspiration and material, Wouk used in his novel, “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”
He also created what is the present Honeymoon Beach from a relatively small stretch of sand and coral rubble beach to the impressive sand beach that exists today. He removed the existing trees, vegetation and rocks, dredged the bay, depositing the sand ashore and landscaped the area with coconut palms and other iconic tropical vegetation.
Additionally, Phillips established the Water Island Botanical Garden bringing in plants from all over the world.
Walter Phillips died at the age of 97 a few weeks after suffering a stroke while swimming at Honeymoon Beach. A permit was obtained allowing Phillips to be buried on Water Island.
For a more complete
history see the report by David G. Anderson, Archaeology in the Caribbean: