Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum
Situated in a 300-plus-year-old sugar factory next to the Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall, the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum (Station Rd., no phone, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free) is a work in progress. The museum is housed in a complex of buildings that have served successively, since the 1780s, as sugar works, cotton gin, agricultural station, court house, government offices, and headquarters of the police maintenance unit. Before the reclamation of Wickham’s Cay in the 1960s, the building sat on the shore of Road Harbour; now it sits along the busy James Walter Francis Drive.
The museum offers a diverse array of exhibits, ranging from historic artifacts to local artwork. Several rooms contain relics of everyday life, such as coal-powered irons and old-time sewing machines, which depict the self-sufficiency and work ethic of earlier generations of Virgin Islanders. Another room is dedicated to exhibitions of local artists’ work. Toward the rear, a room houses photographs and detailed descriptions of some of the BVI’s animals and plants. Downstairs are exhibits about the territory’s maritime history, including artifacts from the wreck of the RMS Rhone.
While supported by the government, the museum owes its existence to a group of dedicated volunteers who first lobbied for its preservation and then prepared exhibits. Volunteers also serve as docents during opening hours, which are subject to change. The museum is not flashy, and to get the most out of it you will need to spend a good deal of time reading. But for those who make the investment of time, it offers a valuable interpretation of the BVI’s past and present.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Virgin Islands, 4th edition