The United States Virgin Islands
(USVI) are an organized, unincorporated territory of
the United States of America. The territory
consists of 68 islands, islets and keys located in
the Lesser Antilles east of Puerto Rico. The main
islands are St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and
Water Island, and have a combined population of
about 108,612 (U.S. 2000 Census). Charlotte Amalie is
the capital city and is located on St. Thomas.
A US Navy submarine
in the waters off of St. Thomas, 1940s
The islands were originally inhabited by Arawak and
Carib Indians before they were sited during Christopher
Columbus’ journey in 1493. Prior to World War
1, the islands were governed by numerous countries,
including Spain, England, Holland, France, the
Knights of Malta and Denmark. The United States of
America purchased St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John,
Water Island and associated islets and cays from
Denmark in 1917. The territory was purchased
for $25 million in gold to improve military
positioning during critical times of World War I and prohibit German expansion into the Caribbean.
The islands were renamed from the Danish West Indies to
the United States Virgin Islands.
An inter-island ferry
travelling between St. Thomas and St. John in 1949.
The VI Port Authority is last in a line of
federal and local government agencies to manage the
USVI’s ports. The US Navy was the administrator of
the islands and managed the port facilities. The US made a wartime decision to
construct a submarine base on the island of St.
Thomas. A naval airbase also replaced the modest
airstrip located at Bourne Field in Lindbergh Bay
with a military air hangar and 600-foot runway.
This airbase was later named the Harry S. Truman
Airport, and renamed the Cyril E. King Airport on
Oct. 3, 1984.
Bourne Field was the
first airfield on St. Thomas. The US Navy
constructed a hangar
which was later used as the first airport on St. Thomas:
the Harry S. Truman Airport.
The airport was renamed the Cyril E. King Airport in
1984, and the VI Port Authority
extended the runway and constructed a new terminal.
The military’s need for the U.S. Virgin Islands
ended, and from 1931 through 1969, the control of
the ports was turned over to the US Department of
Interior which managed the former military
properties in the US Virgin Islands and some
farmlands on St. Croix via the federal agency,
The Virgin Islands Corporation (VI Corp).
VI Corp was a wholly-owned federal government
corporation approved by the US Congress on June 30,
1949 and amended on Sep. 2, 1958. The Corporation
operated the territory's electric power facilities
and newly constructed salt water distillation
facility on St. Thomas. VI Corp managed the
submarine base, the St. Thomas airport, 80
housing-units rented to federal and insular
government employees and private individuals, 6
hotels, 1 guesthouse, 4 piers, a beach club, a golf
course and clubhouse, about 35 additional buildings,
3 water systems, transportation equipment, and other
miscellaneous units. Dr. Kenneth Bartlett served as
president, followed by former Massachusetts state
senator, Robert “Bob” Cramer.
St. Croix 1940
On May 28, 1965, VI Corp sold its electric and
desalination plants to the government of the Virgin
Islands. In 1966, the Department of Interior
transferred the management of the ports to a newly
developed agency named The Virgin Islands Airport
and Industrial Development Agency. The agency
managed the airport on St. Croix which opened in
1950, the airport on St. Thomas, and the submarine
base on St. Thomas. Alton Adams Jr., an engineer
born in St. Thomas, was the agency’s first and only
executive director. The agency managed a fairly
self-sustaining marine division, but was faced with
operational and equipment issues at the territory’s
airports, which were used as former naval hangars and
would now be used for commercial air traffic.
The Seventh Legislature of the US Virgin Islands passed
Act 2375 which established the Virgin Islands
Port Authority on December 24, 1968. Act 2405
set the date of establishment of the Authority as
February 11, 1969
which is recognized as VIPA's official anniversary
date. VIPA was
charged with the ownership and management of the
territory's public air and seaports.
Benedict Field was the
first airfield on St. Croix and was constructed in 1941
by the US Army Air Corps. In the late 1940's, the Alexander Hamilton Airport was
built. The airport was renamed the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport
in 1996. The VI Port Authority completed the
extension of the airport runway and remodeled the
terminal in 2002.
Alton Adams Jr. continued as the agency's executive
director until he resigned in Sept. 1971. He was
succeeded by Jack M. Monsanto of St. Thomas
(1971-1975), John E. Harding of St. Thomas
(1975-1991), Gordon A. Finch of St. Croix
(1991–2002) and Darlan Brin of St. Thomas
(2003-2008). Kenn Hobson, who is originally from
Nevis but a longtime resident of St. Thomas, served
as the director of the agency from 2008 until his
retirement in Feb. 2012. Attorney Don. C.
Mills served as interim executive director from Feb.
2012 until Jan. 2013. Former USVI senator Carlton
Dowe of St. Thomas was selected as the executive
director on Jan. 16, 2013 through Dec. 2016.
David W. Mapp of St. Croix is currently the acting executive
Cruz Bay Harbor, St.
Today, the VI Port Authority manages some of the
busiest and modern air and seaport facilities in the
Caribbean. Since its establishment in 1969, the
Authority has constructed new airport terminals and
extended the runways on both St. Thomas and St.
Croix. The agency also constructed several new
seaports - and today manages a combination of 14
cruise, cargo and ferry seaports. VIPA is one of the
largest government land owners in the territory with
a complex portfolio of aviation, marine, beachfront
and multi-industrial use properties. VIPA’s vision
is to continue to improve its ports to ensure a
first-class and memorable entry and exit experience
for the travelling public.