History of Hotel Caravelle
Christiansted, St Croix
US Virgin Islands
Written by Jane Watkins and the late Robert L. Merwin
Prior to Columbus’ arrival in 1493, the Carib and Arawak Indians inhabited St. Croix. Though Spain was the first to claim St. Croix, seven countries in total would take ownership of this island paradise. Spain, Netherlands, England, France and Knights of Malta all tried to colonize St. Croix.
But it wasn’t until 1733, when the French Government sold St. Croix to the Danish West India & Guinea Co. for approximately $150,000, that St. Croix truly began to thrive. Denmark took over the island in 1755, holding it for a total of 184 years until it was sold to the USA. In 1917, as part of a military initiative during World War I, the United States bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million.
Today, you will see much evidence of the Danish impact on St. Croix. From historic buildings to estate homes, the style and architecture is clearly from Denmark. Federick Moth, a Danish Lieutenant, who became governor of the Danish West Indies in 1736, designed the two towns on St. Croix; Christiansted and Frederiksted. Christiansted, originally a little French village called Bassin, was designed to be the size of Copenhagen with the layout of Christiana (now Oslo) in the 18th century.
In the book Three Towns, written by Danish architects, it is written of Christiansted and the Government House block that “there are not many townscapes of this kind to be found in the world. The architectural quality bears comparison to the European Court town of the 18th century.”
Located on the waterfront in 18th century Christiansted, Hotel Caravelle faces the harbor with eastward views of Protestant Cay, Christiansvaern Fort and the old French fort site, and westward views of the outmost point of the Judith’s Fancy neighborhood wherein lies the entrance to Salt River (the location of Columbus’s landing). Northward, when conditions are right, profiles of the other US and British islands show on the horizon.
The land on which Hotel Caravelle sits has a fascinating history. In its early Danish days it was used for loading and off-loading of ships’ goods including sugar, fruits and live cattle. By the 19th century there was a warehouse on the seaside, and at the top of the road stood a townhouse with separate cookhouse and stable. Robert Merwin, whose family has lived on St. Croix since 1885, recalled in an interview in 2004 that the land was used for a branch of Robt L. Merwin & Company, a general merchant, which bought what the ship would need when it came to port – water, food, nails, barrels, tar, etc, and sold the things ships brought in, or distributed them to the owners. In 1946 when Robert Merwin, the founder of Robt L. Merwin & Company passed away, the company was transferred to investor and friend Robert W. Skeoch (Robert’s brother Malcom was one of the founders of Cruzan Rum). Robert’s son, Norman, established the Christiansted Utilities Company on the site in 1946. The Company operated from there until the 1960’s. The waterfront portion of what is now Hotel Caravelle was used to load live cattle onto ships and, what is now the Caravelle Shopping Arcade, was used as a lumberyard. There was an ice house there too under Norman Skeoch.
In 1967 Mr. Wnty Hilty, an artistic man from Denmark, leased the land from Norman Skeoch and built Hotel Caravelle. The 43-room hotel, designed to reflect the 18th century Danish style of architecture, opened with great anticipation and success. In 1983 Sid and Amy Kalmans purchased the oceanfront hotel.
The Hotel Caravelle property, host to more than a half-million visitors to date, is a charming complex of gift, souvenir and clothing shops, offices, and several restaurants. The flagship waterfront restaurant has had its fair share of the fabulous and famous. From musicians, to politicians, athletes to thespians, the beautiful views and refreshing breezes, coupled with great food, icy-cold drinks and warm hospitality have drawn raves from Mel Fisher, Cliff Robinson, Lee Greenwood, Tim Duncan, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Orlando Wilson, Donavan Leech, Dave Mason, Rita Marley, Gary Morris, David Copperfield, Alexis Smith, Spencer Christian, Loretta Swift, Geraldine Ferraro, Maureen O’Hara and many others.
Danish visitors particularly love staying at Hotel Caravelle both for its historical roots and its friendly staff. Travelers from Denmark return time and again to learn about this slice of paradise so closely connected to their country. Americans make up for more than 90% of the islands visitors and they too, return for the charm, history and warm hospitality.
To learn more about St. Croix and her illustrious past, be sure to visit the many historic sites the island offers.