Oranjestad is the capital of St Eustatias, situated on a cliff overlooking the long beach below and divided between Upper Town and Lower Town. The town used to be defended by Fort Oranje (pronounced Orahn’ya) perched on a rocky bluff. Built in 1636 on the site of a 1629 French fortification, the ruins of the fort have been preserved and large black cannons still point out to sea. The administrative buildings of the island’s Government are here. The fort was partly destroyed by a fire in 1990, but has been restored since then.
Other places of historical interest include the ruins of the Honen Dalim Synagogue built in 1739 and the nearby cemetery. Statia once had a flourishing Jewish community and was a refuge for Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, but with the economic decline after the sacking of Oranjestad by Admiral Rodney, most of the Jewish congregation left. The Dutch Reformed Church, consecrated in 1755, suffered a similar fate when its congregation joined the exodus. The square tower has been restored but the walls are open to the elements. The surrounding graveyard has some interesting tombs. Legend has it that it was here that Admiral Rodney found most of his booty after noticing that there were a surprising number of funerals for such a small population. A coffin, which he ordered to be opened, was found to be full of valuables and further digging revealed much more.
On Wilhelminaweg in the centre, the 18th-century Doncker/De Graaff House, once a private merchant’s house and also where Admiral Rodney lived, has been restored and is now the Museum of the St Eustatius Historical Foundation. There is a pre-columbian section which includes an Amerindian skeleton and a reconstruction of 18th-century rooms at the height of Statia’s posperity. It is worth a visit for the graphic descriptions of the slave trade. Archaeological excavations at Golden Rock near the airport have uncovered a large Amerindian village with the only complete floor plan of Indian houses found in the Caribbean. All the houses are round or slightly oval, ranging in size and accommodating anything up to 30 people. Large timbers up to 8 m high were set in deep holes for the framework of the biggest houses. The museum contains some pottery buried in the ceremonial area of the village next to a grave. T82288, US$2 or US$1 for children, 0900-1700 Mon-Fri, 0900-1200 Sat, Sun and holidays, the curator normally shows you around, explaining the history of the exhibits.
It is possible to walk round the village and see the sights in a morning. The museum or tourist office will provide you with a Walking Tour brochure listing the historical sites and other walking tours. In its heyday Lower Town stretched for 3 km along the bay, with warehouses, taverns and slave markets attracting commercial traffic. Parts are now being restored as hotels or restaurants. Seven privately-owned houses are being renovated as part of the Historic Core Development Plan, of which four had been completed by the end of 1999. If you like beach combing, blue, five-sided slave beads over 200 years old can be found along the shore at Oranjestad.
Berkels family museum is on the Lynch Plantation, a domestic museum with a collection of household utensils and antiques on the northeast side of the island, T82338.