Saint Croix Island International Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Saint Croix Island

Saint Croix Island

Note: While Saint Croix Island International Historic Site is in the United States, cell service is provided by a Canadian cell tower. Those without Canadian cell service may be hit with extra fees.


PARK OVERVIEW

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site preserves the island where the French established a short-lived settlement in August 1604, but one that marked the beginning of their permanent, uninterrupted presence in North America. There had been unsuccessful French settlements in North America since the mid-1500s, and French traders and explorers had come to the northeast area of the continent many times before during the spring and summer season, but this was the first time an attempt was made to stay year-round.

The expedition of seventy-nine men was led by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, the man who the King of France had authorized to establish French authority in North America, seek out valuable commodities, and convert the native people to Christianity. Dugua chose a small island in the middle of the Saint Croix River because there were no signs that it had ever been inhabited and for its logical defensive position. The island was used only as a living place; the mainland was where the French planted crops, obtained fresh water (the river is salty at this point), harvested timber, and traded for furs and essential products with the Passamoquoddy Indians.

When winter rolled around, the French found out why nobody had ever lived on the island. Once the Saint Croix River began to freeze, ice flows made it too treacherous to cross, cutting them off from the mainland. They had plenty of salted meat and preserved vegetables, but no fresh vegetables that contained the vital nutrient Vitamin C. By the time spring arrived, thirty-five of Dugua’s men had died from scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C. These men were buried on the island, and while the National Park Service knows where twenty-five of the graves are located, there are no tombstones, and the cemetery is kept secret. The other ten graves have never been found. The island is much smaller today due to erosion, so it is possible that these graves are now underwater.

When ships arrived in June 1605 with supplies and more men, Dugua dismantled some of the buildings, and with the help of Samuel de Champlain, eventually relocated to what is today Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Champlain was an expedition member who Dugua had sent out to explore the area while his men built the fort and living quarters on Saint Croix Island, so he knew of suitable places for a new settlement.

In 1613, the British sacked Port Royal, forcing the French to move eight miles north and to the other side of the Annapolis River where they reestablished the town. When the British conquered the area in 1710, the town was renamed Annapolis Royal, the name that is still used today.

In the modern area, half of Saint Croix Island was privately owned up through the late 1960s. The other half was owned by the U. S. Coast Guard, and that part of the island was transferred to the National Park Service in 1949. The private owners donated their half to the park in 1968. In 1984 the park was re-designated as an International Historic Site.

There is nothing left of the French settlement on Saint Croix Island, and the National Park Service highly discourages people from visiting it (the island is within the border of the United States). Because of this, no tours are given, and you must have your own boat if you want to explore the island. There is, however, a mainland unit of the park that consists of a small visitor center, a few picnic tables, and a .1-mile gravel path that leads down to the Saint Croix River where you can get a look at the island. There are some exhibits and statues along the way. If you insist on traveling to the island by motorboat, canoe, or kayak, a boat ramp on the property is available for you to use (4-wheel drive vehicles are required to access it).


OPERATING HOURS

The mainland grounds of the park and Saint Croix Island are open year-round from dawn to dusk. The Visitor Center building is open and staffed during the following times:

  • Mid-May through June 30th
    • 9 AM to 4:30 PM on Thursday through Monday
    • Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • July 1st through Columbus Day
    • Open Daily
    • 9 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Closed the rest of the year

Times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to get the latest schedule on the official National Park Service Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Saint Croix Island International Historic Site.


FEES

There are no fees to visit Saint Croix Island International Historic Site


SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site is by far one of the least involving parks in the National Park system. Less than 15,000 people stop by each year, and they seem to fall into one of two categories: those trying to visit as many National Parks as possible and those who saw the sign on the highway when driving by on their way to someplace else. Plan to spend thirty minutes to an hour for your visit, unless you actually travel out to Saint Croix Island.

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Last updated on June 17, 2020
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