Monday, April 20, 2015

Keeping up with The Benjamins

As I continue to work on the script with a goal of finishing it by the end of the month, there was a missing piece in my research. I have researched the owners of the house from the very beginning tracing them all the way back to 1777, tracing some of the owners back to Africa and the areas that they came from. But my house was owned by the same family for almost 100 years, starting in 1920, the Benjamins, and I didn't know much about them. I had the name and phone number of Earl Benjamin that I had obtained from the lawyer that represented them when I purchased the property. I had waited to call them, until last week. It was an interesting conversation.

 Mr. Benjamin left St. Croix many years ago as a child, around 10 years old in the 1940's, and like many Virgin Islanders went to NY with family. His memories of St. Croix are understandably limited. He said most of his family moved from the island and believes he has one cousin who resides in Frederiksted. He remembered spending time between my house on 18B and another house on Hill or Market St. where he lived. His grandmother lived in my house and he said he spent his early years back and forth between the two properties. He talked about having limited opportunities in St. Croix and that the move to the states had benefited their family.

The house was owned in 1920 by his grandfather, then passed to his father and then passed to him, his mother and siblings.  He said that the last family members who lived in the house were is grandmother and his aunt who was caring for her. After they both died the house was rented, and then started to fall into disrepair as the gaps became bigger between tenants. I'll have to look into my notes again to place when the fire took place. But the lawyer told me that it was a struggle to keep the building boarded up and the vagrants and drug addicts out. The building burned as a result of the one of the addicts, like many of the small wooden houses that are abandoned. I suspect the Benjamin story is not unique to our town. All we have to do is look around and wonder how many of these buildings are owned by family who has moved away and the relatives no longer have interest in the building or there is no clear title. I hope that this is something that we can address. It's critical for the town to move forward.

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