Preserving historic homes to their former glory was a passion for the late Richard Hampton Jenrette, and it was fortunate for St. Croix that his passion led him to the iconic Estate Cane Garden located on the south shore.
As a self-proclaimed “house-aholic”, Dick Jenrette often admitted that he had seen Gone With The Wind too many times in his youth, influencing his love of classical architecture. In his book, Adventures With Old Houses, Dick Jenrette tells of his personal account of acquiring and preserving over a dozen historic properties, including Cane Garden. In a conversational and entertaining manner, Jenrette recounts how his passion led to this unconventional odyssey resulting in an internationally recognized collection of classical historic houses. HRH The Prince of Wales wrote, “No wonder some of his admirers have described Dick as a one-person National Trust for Historic Preservation.” He was gracious and warm and I was lucky to have visited with him during his many years on St. Croix. He certainly lived up to what the New York Times’s description that “he was the last gentleman on Wall Street”, where he had impressive career as a co-founder and Chairman of securities investment bank, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, and Chairman and CEO of The Equitable Life Assurance Society.
Estate Cane Garden’s history is rich and its buildings reflect its storied past. Estate Cane Garden, as evidenced by its name, was once a sugar cane plantation owned by three generations of the McEvoy Family, who were Scotch-Irish planters in what was then a Danish colony. Cane Garden was extensively remodeled in the 1820s in the newly fashionable classical style, with columns added on both the front and back sides of the home. Cane Garden’s similarity to the White House might not be totally coincidental. Dr. William Thornton, one of the architects of the White House and a close friend to Thomas Jefferson, was a native of the Virgin Islands. He returned for a visit about the time that Cane Garden was built and could have served as a consultant or taste arbiter on the project.
In the early 20th Century, Cane Garden was burned, leaving only the massive coral block walls as a shell of the original structure. It stood as a romantic ruin for at least 40 years until it was rebuilt by the Howard Wall Family of Portland, Oregon shortly after World War II. Purchasing the house from the Walls’ estate in 1985, Dick Jenrette embarked on a plan to return Cane Garden to its original look, to the extent it could be ascertained. Fred Gjessing, a Danish architect working in St. Thomas, and William Taylor, a St. Croix architect, led the efforts to recreate the original. They were aided by valuable sources such as extensive photographs of the ruins after the fire as well as other evidence they were able to gather both in St. Croix and Copenhagen. As a result, the present house is a replica incorporating what was left of the original house. The house today consists of an impressive six-bedroom great house with a swimming pool, three additional cottages, several outbuildings and historic ruins.
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