The Rock Walls of St. John

by julie swanson

I wish I’d taken a picture of one of the beautiful and distinctive-style rock walls or buildings they have there, but  I didn’t, so I’ll tell you to go here and see what one type of them is like:  This link shows a picture of historic sugar mill ruins in Annaburg and isn’t quite what I’d show you as the perfect example of what I mean.  But I think it’s where these walls originated so I thought it worth seeing.

To see the modern and more-perfected art of it that I really like, look at these pictures of the Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay, a nice shopping center/galleria they have there: and

These rock buildings and walls have big flat-faced rocks of assorted colors with chunks of white coral and seashells ( both small clam-shaped white shells and larger white-and-pink conch shells) and bits of red brick or clay stuck in the mortar between the larger rocks and corals. So you have gray, black, slate blue-green, white, pink, and brick-red all in one wall. Mosaic-like, almost lacy.

At first I found them funky, like walls of recycled stuff, but then they grew and grew on me until I decided my dream house might be a stone house like that one day, similar to the wonderful Mongoose Junction building in Cruz Bay, which combines rich and hefty woodwork with it.

These walls are obviously a trademark of St. John from way back, as the old sugar mill ruins all over the island have the same mix of stone and coral with broken bits of brick and shells in between big chunks of coral and rock. Beautiful and a great use of the materials at hand. I’m curious as to whether they originally meant to be artistic and create the mosaic effect or if they were just using every scrap, re-using the brick from structures that had crumbled or been torn down. Where they built as haphazardly and hurriedly as it appears so that their beauty was almost accidental or unintended, something only appreciated in retrospect when people had time to come in from somewhere else and enjoy their uniqueness? Regardless, it works and many must’ve liked it and continue to like it, because I saw many structures that had copied or were being built in the same style–only they’re neater and seem to more purposefully artful than some of the old historic walls.