L’Esperance, Seiben, Molendahl Road
The L’Esperance Road begins at Centerline Road (Route 10) about 0.3 miles from the Cathrineberg Road. There’s a steel pipe gate and the foundation of an old house at the beginning of the road. Park here if you arrived by vehicle.
This road was passable by motor vehicle until the 1950s, when it started to grow over. Some of the owners of the inholdings paid to have the road bulldozed in the 1970s, and it was again passable by foot or with a four wheel drive vehicle and off road driving experience.
In 1995, Hurricane Marylin closed off the road with fallen trees which became covered with Catch and Keep. Through the efforts of the Trail bandit and others the road is again passable and now leads all the way to the Reef Bay Trail
The road descends on western side of the Fish Bay Valley, through moist forest passing through stands of genip, guavaberry, turpentine, bay rum and mango trees.
The residence or great house had a gallery below, the upper story was frame and there was a gallery on that level also.
The cookhouse or kitchen is nearby and the cookbench is still very much in evidence as well as an oven, which is in a deteriorated condition. Beyond that is a structure probably used by the overseer and near that is in the remains of a Dutch oven or bake oven.
There are two horse mills. One is located below the great house and is mostly in its original configuration. The stone retaining wall on the lower side is still intact. The other horse mill is located across the trail as you come in. It was abandoned at sometime, and the new one was constructed.
Below the later horse mill was the slave village. There were sixteen slave houses there at one time.
The sugar factory building is located below the estate house and off to the right is the rum still. This had a cistern for cooling the distilled mash. The can house where the rum came out is located near the rum still and cistern.
A royal palm tree is visible from the trail near the estate house, which may be a remaining native species. There is some dispute as to whether the royal palm is native to St. John or whether it was brought in. One theory is that the royal palm, which has edible heart of palm, was harvested by Indians living on St. John and as the tree is killed in this process the species may have been almost completely wiped out over the centuries.
The History of the Estate
In 1830, the plantation stopped its sugar production operation and became a cattle and provision growing farm. This was a hardship for the slaves living on L’Esperance as they were removed from the plantation and many had husbands, wives and family living on nearby estates.
In 1836 only ten acres of L’Esperance were developed and the population had fallen to 13.
L’Esperance was purchased by the municipal council for the residence of the local doctor for the island of St. John. The law at that time required the plantation owners to pay two cents per person for the services of the doctor who was called doctor two-penny. Later on a policeman married to a local woman who was a seamstress lived here.
By 1875 L’Esperance had been abandoned.
Continuing the Hike
As the trail winds around to a southern exposure, the environment becomes drier and the flora changes. There was a cattle operation here and you can see a fence line with barbed wire. The vegetation gets messy from changes caused by cattle grazing. The land has not recovered appreciable from this for the last fifty years. Here you will see Christmas bush, which may cause a rash if touched, wild tamarind, the thorny casha and maran all becoming dominant species because everything else was eaten by the cattle.
The extensive ruins include the remains of the sugar factory, rum still, estate house and various other structures. There was reported to be two cannons here at one time, with one supposedly still remaining.
More recently the area was used as a clandestine marijuana plantation with the remains of the operation still in evidence.
an old press lies along the trail
Crucian explorer, Patson Saner stands by the only Baobob tree on St. John
View from Seiban Ridge - photo taken from the rocks near the Baobob tree
An old Danish Road, the Great Seiban, connects Seiban to Fish Bay. The trail, recently opened by the Trail Bandit ,descends from Seiban Ruins near the Baobob tree and follows the contour of the Fish Bay Valley leading to a residential area of Fish Bay. The hand -built road has weathered the centuries well, as can be seen by the good condition of much of the stone retaining walls supporting the lower side of the road.
The terrain is shady moist forest with stands of guavaberry, West Indian Birch genips, turpentine. Also bromeliads, anthuriums, love leaf.
Continuing on the hike
Soon after this you will come to an overlook with views of Fish Bay, the Fish Bay valley, the houses on top of Oyen Hill and of the Ditleff Point Peninsula.
Eastern Fish Bay Gut and the Bay Rum Stand
Up the gut and to the west are the remains of an old shingle walled house that was lived in by members of the Sprauve family until the 1950s.
At that time most of the houses in Cruz Bay were of similar construction. There were bats on the ceiling some of which were nursing their young. You will also find the remains of a cook house, a well, an oven and an old boiling copper.
The road continues along the eastern ridge of the Fish Bay Valley. It passes a turn around area for vehicles and then turns right to cross the ridge into Reef Bay. The improved road ends shortly after the right turn and continues in an unimproved condition. There is an overlook with views of the Reef Bay Valley here.
Between the bay rum gut and the turn around is the entrance, off to the left, to the Malendahl ruins and little further on is another old house with a flat galvanized roof which is now in a collapsed condition due to the effects of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
The rum still and the storage house ruins can also be found nearby.
In 1793 the Seiben Mollendall Estate had 80 acres in cane, 60 acres in provisions and 150 acres in pastureland grazing 141 cows. About half the estate was unimproved woodlands. The population was 141.
By 1808 the production of cane was discontinued stressing livestock instead. A report 1836 listed Seiben Mollendal as having only 35 acres of pasture and a population of 18. In 1875 this had dropped to 16 acres of pasture with only nine inhabitants.
Between 1879 and 1913, the owners of the Sieben-Mollendal plantations transferred 49 acres to small land holders. In 1915 26 people lived on 11 separate properties carved out of the old Seiban-Mollendal Plantation. The lots ranged from two to nine acres and in total 18 acres were improved. These subsistence farmers grew provision and fruits and raised a small amount of livestock.
Down to the Reef Bay Valley Floor