National Geographic : 1940 Sep
The National Geographic Magazine Photograph by Edwin L. Wisherd Silent the Mill That Once Brought Plenty With the depression caused by competition in the world's sugar markets and later the shutting down of rum manufacture, estates such as this on St. Croix suffered greatly, and the sugar towers, stripped of their wind mills, fell into disuse. Resumption of business has brought modern machinery to crush the cane (page 305). With this extreme of barbarism on the one hand, and on the other the modern home steader with his new conception of morality, his educational opportunities, his recently bestowed suffrage, we are witness to an experi ment in social evolution which is also absorb ing human drama. Homesteads for Onetime Slaves In 1932, with half the population on re lief, it became evident that unless the United States was prepared to maintain its "effec tive poorhouse" indefinitely, drastic steps were necessary. A homesteading program was in augurated, to meet with a success that was little less than astounding. These people who had passed from slavery to a tenant-farming system which had been almost as servile were quick to seize the opportunity to become land owners. Today over 475 families are settled upon their own land, and their small white concrete cottages, bowered under waving coconut palms or looking out over the blowing green of young cane, are becoming a familiar note in the landscape (page 307). Under the tenant system the rental per acre of cane land was from five to twelve and in some cases even fifteen dollars a year. Under the homesteading plan the cost, including in terest and principal payments, amounts to about $3.50 an acre. In twenty years the pur chaser will be handed a clear title, and the conversion of a shiftless tenant into a respon sible landowner and taxpayer will have been accomplished. In 1934 the Virgin Islands Company came into being. This is a nondividend, govern ment-controlled corporation. Abandoned lands were acquired at a frac tion of their former value. One thousand laborers were taken from relief and put back into the fields. Sugar mills and rum distilleries were rebuilt and modernized, and private estate owners as well as the new homesteaders now are being given facilities for marketing their products. Governor Lawrence W. Cramer will tell you (perhaps, if you are lucky, from the gal lery of Government House, with his miniature domain spread out below) that the American Virgins are well upon their way. And he will add that the natural beauty of the islands, which, with the leisurely tempo of their tropic days, offer such a perfect asylum for tired mainlanders, will always be preserved. 308 '.4.