Archaeology and Cinnamon Bay

Little white house at Cinnamon Bay 1960s
NPS Photo

History of the Little White House and Archaeology at Cinnamon Bay.

Just a few weeks before Irma hit a team of climatologists came and gave a presentation on what to expect from future super hurricanes. We took them to Cinnamon Bay and discussed what will be lost and what we had done to prepare for the inevitable.

Twenty-five years ago I along with fellow archaeologist Regina Leabo of the NPS excavated a small test unit at Cinnamon Bay. What we found was astonishing and completely unprecedented. The dirt at the beach edge had unbelievable preserved in near exact sequence, century atop century the last 500 years of prehistoric life here in the Virgin Islands. While we were there we saw how Hurricane Hugo had just recently demonstrated just how threatened this shoreline and site were by erosion.

So when the Friends asked in 1998 what was an urgent and critical need that they could help with; it was without question saving these pristine chapters of the Caribbean’s history. So began the park’s archaeology program. Over the next several years excavations continued nearly non-stop and though only a small portion of the site was dug what was saved was remarkable. We discovered Classic Taino culture was here with all its elaborate art. That the site was their version of a church where ceremonial offerings were made providing us an insight into the meaning of Caribbean petroglyphs, prehistoric life, and the extent of cultural interaction from Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to Antiqua, and along the shores of South America.

We also discovered that the little white house on the beach was one of the oldest standing structures in the Virgin Island’s dating back to the 1600s. All the while we knew time to share all this new knowledge about this historic place and ancient site was limited. So the Friends helped us create a working lab with archeological exhibits. It was designed so that the artifacts could be removed quickly and we could continue to work and interpret these ancient sites before they would be lost forever.

Well, the massive hurricanes came a little sooner than even the climatologists predicted and yes it would have been nice to have had a few more years to share these wonderful discoveries on site. Nevertheless, the NPS mission was achieved, we had saved what we could and interpreted to our community and visitors as much of this treasured past and special place as was possible.

Having objects made by the people and cultures that came before us on display, provided us a timeline of physical proof of our island's rich past, inspiring a new appreciation for our island’s heritage in both an older and younger generation and a desire to preserve these treasures for all to enjoy. Now we have that chance to create a truly special place where we can insure our heritage is safe for all to see.

The Oldest House on St. John

Image of little white house at Cinnamon Pre Irma Image of little white house at Cinnamon Pre Irma

Left image
Little white house at Cinnamon Pre Irma
Credit: Anne Finney

Right image
Little white house after Hurricane Irma
Credit: NPS Photo

The oldest house on St. John was the little white house on the beach at Cinnamon Bay. It was later restored and converted into the Cinnamon Bay Heritage Center & Archeology Lab.

Virgin Islands National Park

Last updated: May 20, 2021