Florence & Walter Lewisohn and Steve Edwards Honored at the Annaberg School Sign Dedication

(Summarized By Robin Swank)

SJHS members walked up newly restored steps to the Annaberg Country School on December 11th. Our ‘tea party’ was convened to dedicate new permanent educational signage on behalf of the three individuals who funded the educational signage by bequest and also gave of themselves to the SJHS, and to hear from founding SJHS members who restored the Annaberg school. ‘The new permanent sign is the culmination of a cooperative 2-year effort with the National Park Service,’ said SJHS President Eleanor Gibney in her opening remarks.

Eleanor addresses the group at the Annaberg
Country School sign dedication

Thank you to the Honorees

Eleanor recalled Walter and Florence Lewisohn, close friends of her parents, as warm, generous and giving of themselves, self-effacing and living in the present. How the Lewisohn family, immigrant ‘purveyors of feathers and bristles’ in the 1800’s became copper magnates by the 20th century -and the crème of NY society -is a separate and interesting tale. And Walter’s stint as a radio operator with Admiral Byrd’s 2nd Antarctic expedition in 1938, was also, as he put it “all a long time ago.” (cont’d next page)

During his later years he embraced learning about the Virgin Islands; his family heritage and early exploits never were cause for self-promotion. Florence, who had been the Office of War Information’s Far East Correspondent, a CBS reporter, and a West Coast journalist (during a time when women just weren’t), was also an independent thinker and a strong writer, chronicling, collecting, preserving and promoting the arts, culture and history of the West Indies through such books as Tales of Tortola and the British Virgin Islands in 1969, St Croix Under Seven Flags in 1970 and Living Arts and Crafts of the West Indies, which she co-authored with her husband in l973.

Steve and Nancy Edwards came to St John on their honeymoon in 1949, enchanted by Desmond Holdridge’s book about St. John in the ‘30’s, Escape to the Tropics. Ten years later they returned to live on the island, with their infant daughter Kiki. Steve formed a close friendship with John Anderson, who introduced him to St John history.

Steve became a V.I. National Park employee, and following an off-island stint working for the NPS, he returned to St. John to become a founding member of both the St. John Historical Society and the Friends of the V.I. National Park. ‘Steve was always abundantly generous with his time and encouragement, inspiring an interest in history in many younger people, including David Knight, who credits him as his impetus to begin serious historical research. Continuity of knowledge has been assured by these people who were “amateurs” in the original sense: lovers of their subject, who sought no reward, but who were able to communicate their excitement and passion to all who associated with them.

Bob & Velma Pullen and Don & Jane Bowry
pictured with the new sign…
These four long-time Society members were among
the group that originally cleared the site and stabilized
the ruins of the Annaberg Country School

The Restoration of Annaberg School

Founding member Jane Bowry recalled that Ruth Low’s 1982 discovery and Steve Edward’s confirmation that the ruins near Mary Creek were in fact the Annaberg School, were followed closely by the launch of a SJHS volunteer effort at restoration. Jane noted that the project was a natural for a group of energetic retirees who came from a tradition of volunteering and saw merit in memorializing the goal of compulsory education for all children.

The restoration project, Jane told us, joined SJHS volunteers, Park personnel, well-wishers and on-lookers in a project that remains ‘a cherished memory’ and, as David interjected, an inspiration. Reggie Callwood and Mario Benjamin of the National Park Service provided the technical expertise as the Park’s restoration experts, and many St. Johnians gave advice, encouragement, and hours of labor to match the 1700 hours (logged over 3 years) of the SJHS volunteers. Jane spoke of the St Johnians who are now gone, who supported the Society in its early years, such as Elaine Sprauve, Prince, Noble Samuel, and George Simmons.

Don Bowry recalled that it wasn’t only cutting bush and hacking trees out of the ruined walls. Restoration also involved a ‘search and delivery’ mission for sand, lime, stone, coral, and bricks, locally and from the other islands, to restore the walls and stairways. He smiled over the memory of a novice snowbird discovering an aptitude for masonry skills.

Thank you, Founding Members, for reminding us of the value of volunteering, and the value of those here before us. Thank you to the National Park for restoring the pathway to the school and for clearing the site prior to our dedication ceremony; and thanks to VINP Supt. Mark Hardgrove for attending and agreeing to keep the site clear. Thank you also to Sub-Tropical Storm Olga, for giving us a glorious four- hour clear weather window during her four day rampage.

Eleanor Gibney

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