Brief History of Palm Passage
In the mid-19th century, St. Thomas harbor was one of the busiest transit and shipping ports in the Caribbean. In fact, it was first western landfall for several major steamship lines.
As trade accelerated during this time, the land facing the harbor was suitable for loading and unloading vessels became extremely valuable. It became very significant to Charlotte Amalie’s merchants whose access to the harbor was of paramount importance to the success of their trade. As a result, the shoreline was subdivided into very deep and narrow lots which are still characteristic to the Main Street shops today.
To provide more space and greater water depths, most of these lots were extended into the water by landfill. The rows of warehouses faced the harbor. Each had its pier or slip and, in many of the narrow alleys – streets would have claimed too much valuable real estate – there were hand carts on rails for distributing goods to the warehouses and stores which now flanked both sides of the main street.
A common plan was the U-shaped double warehouse, with a courtyard separating symmetrical buildings. These courtyards were designed as private work areas, not public walkways they have become. Public access to the shops was on the main street side of these buildings. Palm Passage is one such courtyard and warehouse.
One example of a private work area, which can be envisioned in Palm Passage today, was for the repair of the transatlantic ocean vessels. The ships would be hauled from the harbor into the courtyard and repaired by workers who had individual specialty work shops within the warehouse.
Early records show that the Palm Passage was headquarters of the A. Vance & Co., Charlotte Amalie in 1878. Their advertisement listed in Lightbourn’s Dutch West Indies Annual and Commercial Directory referred to the company as Provision Merchants and Ship and Family grocers.
Although the courtyard and warehouse complex survive with its original native stone walkways, the structure was expanded in the 1950’s by the addition of the waterfront archway and the second and third stories for offices and temporary and seasonal residences. During this same time, the old jetties and slips were destroyed to make way for a new motorway (Veterans Drive today) built along the harbor front.
For a bit of music nostalgia, our small neighborhood was very popular during “The Sixties” :
About Creeque Alley:
Located just east of Palm Passage and part of Historic Royal Dane Mall, Creque’s Alley is a part of an area of narrow alleys that once carried ship cargo and pirate booty to the warehouses lining the Waterfront. In the late 1960’s, the band The Mama’s and Papa’s got their start at Duffy’s Waterfront Saloon and named their 1st album, “Creque’s Alley”. Duffy’s is now a Tommy Hilfiger store. The Creque’s Alley – formerly a single warehouse complex – provides a good idea of the extensive storage facilities required by a trading concern in Charlotte Amalie’s heyday. I’m not sure why they misspelled the alley’s name on the album but maybe they forgot the correct spelling once back in LA.
©PalmPassage.com – by Joe McGarry