Hassel Island is owned by the NPS and use to be attached to St Thomas and forms the western side of the main harbor. As you can see in thefirst photo, it is long and narrow. In the 1860s the low lying land between St Thomas and Hassel Island was removed in order to help with water circulation and the resulting cholera outbreaks.
The southern tip of the island has not one, but three historic fortifications on it. Fort Shipley was the first built in the early 1790s by the Dutch as part of a five fortification system to protect the harbor. The second photo was taken from the water and shows the cannon platform along the lower wall. The first building starts with a cistern and also had rooms to house soldiers and gun powder. The second building was the kitchen and lateen. Think about that one real quick. Apparently the Health Department was not around yet!!!
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The Fortifications the Dutch put around the harbor did not work because the British occupied the area for about 15 years at the beginning of the 1800s. They built Cowell’s
Battery at the top of the hill to mount more cannons. As you can see in the third photo this was a figure eight platform and gave a tremendous view of the harbor and seaway approach. This hilltop site was turned into a signal station in the very late 1800’s and a house was built next to the battery. The British also built the Garrison House (see 4th photo). The building was heavily constructed and was used to store arms, powder, and other military gear. On the northern end of the island the British built Fort Willoughby on the site of the Dutch Fort Frederik and a steam powered marine railway was built to help haul ships from the water.
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Even though the National Parks Service has built a limited trail system and Hassel Island is literally a stone’s throw from St Thomas it does not get many visitors. Due to the lack of crowds, hiking through lush forest, and the above mentioned historic sites I think a couple hours spent on Hassel Island is time well spent.
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