St. John USVI: The Defile

Reef Bay Valley

Until the end of the in the eighteenth century, people couldn’t travel all the way from east to west on what was then called Konge Vey (King’s Road) and which is now known as Centerline Rd or Route 10. The road was divided in two by a deep gorge at the saddle of the Maho Bay Valley on the north and the Reef Bay Valley on the south. This gorge, called the defile, was so deep, its sides so steep and the bottom so rugged that it was impassable by donkey cart or horseback.

When travelers on horseback or wagon going between the Coral Bay side of St. John and the Cruz Bay side came to the defile, they had two options:

Option 1: There were corrals for horses on both sides of the defile. They could leave their horses in the corral on one side, cross the defile on foot and arrange to take another horse to continue east.

Option 2: They could take the Maria Hope Road down the Maho Bay Valley to the north and continue east on the north shore.

Around the year 1780, the defile was filled in by the owner of the Old Works Estate, Peter Wood, and the two sides of the island were connected by one road for the first time.

Until then the main port and business hub of St. John was Coral Bay. There was where one entered and cleared customs and from where most vessels came to pick up and deliver cargo.

The land bridge over the defile changed the dynamics of St. John as now deliveries from east of the defile could be sent to Cruz Bay overland and as Cruz Bay was so much closer to St. Thomas, it became the favored port and the main town on St. John

When Centerline Road was constructed along the mountain ridge, hundreds of tons of fill were brought in to make the road passable by motor vehicle. In the process, the Old Works Estate and the uppermost section of the Maria Hope Road were completely covered over with the exception of the horsemill wall the horsemill wall, which can be seen as soon as you descend the stairs to the Reef Bay Trail.

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