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Frederiksted: Lively past, and present

Your first stop in town should be the Visitors Center at the pier; you can walk out on the pier for a good view of the town's old historic waterfront district and Strand Gade, or Strand Street. This waterfront shopping area is noted for its arcaded buildings and interesting historical structures. The town, in the midst of restoration under a government "Main Street" program, is constantly evolving and improving.

Frederiksted's architecture is different from Christiansted's because the town was partially burned in 1878, during the Fireburn uprising. When it was rebuilt, many structures were adorned with the gingerbread trim characteristic of late Victorian architecture. A fine example is the Victoria House, at the corner of Strand and Market streets.

Fort Frederik, constructed between 1752 and 1760 and located at the north end of town, is an excellent example of Danish military architecture. The small fort, painted a striking brick red, houses a local history museum and is often used for community events. In 1776 it was the first foreign fort to salute the new United States; and here in July 1848, Governor-General Peter von Scholten signed the proclamation that emancipated the slaves in the Danish West Indies.

Among Frederiksted's most outstanding churches is St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church , a cultural landmark that celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1996. The church's Gothic Revival style features walls made from cut-limestone blocks and yellow bricks. The beautiful interior woodwork created by Frederiksted's craftsmen gives the church a distinctive look.

Frederiksted, like Christiansted, has its share of special events that keep the town jumping. Harbour Night is held every other Wednesday when cruise ships call. You'll find yourself dancing in the streets to live music and shopping to your heart's content-stores and street vendors welcome shoppers all evening long.

West End: Beaches, museums and more Two miles east of Frederiksted on St. Croix's oldest thoroughfare, Queen Mary Highway (also known as Centerline Road), is the Estate Whim Plantation Museum. Guided tours of this National Historic Site explain the workings of an 18th-century sugarcane plantation and provide an interesting introduction to the island's history and landscape. Amid shady thibet, mahogany and 150-year-old tamarind trees stand a windmill, a chimney and a sugar factory.

The stately European-influenced great house has been fully restored by the St. Croix Landmarks Society and has imported and Crucian antiques on display.

Just up the road is the St. George Village Botanical Garden, a lush, peaceful oasis with more than 1,000 species of tropical flora. Built amid sugar-mill ruins, the garden is among St. Croix's most photogenic sights. A self-guided walking tour takes you through the forest, where philodendron, ginger plants, lobster claws and orchids flourish. Near the end of the walking tour is the cactus garden, an exotic array of succulents.

Backtrack down Queen Mary Highway to Route 64 and the Cruzan Rum Distillery, the manufacturer of one the finest rums in the world. Rum has been made at this same location, once known as Estate Diamond, for 300 years, with only a brief interruption during Prohibition. A major export, the rum is both shipped in bulk to U.S. distilleries and bottled locally under the Cruzan Rum label. Guided tours of the distillery explaining the libation's role in Crucian history depart every morning and afternoon, Monday through Friday, and include a complimentary rum drink.

To the north of Frederiksted, the dramatic coastline along Route 63 provides several shady stretches ideal for a quiet picnic near the sea. These beaches offer the best swimming on the west side, particularly the one opposite the Sprat Hall Plantation, a charming great house that is now an elegant inn. If you're in the mood for a livelier time, stop at some of the beachside restaurants on Route 63.

You will pass two roads off of Route 63 that take you through what is often referred to as St. Croix's "rain forest," more accurately a moist tropical forest. Heading north from Frederiksted, Route 76-Mahogany Road, also known as Rainforest Road-is the first you will come upon. This route, a tunnel of cool green, winds through a mass of mango, papaya and other fruit trees; thick vines help create a semi-canopy overhead.

Just north of Route 76 you'll find the Carl and Marie Lawaetz Museum at Little La Grange, one of the more intriguing museums to open on the West End. This turn-of-the-century Danish West Indies home and gardens provide a fascinating glimpse into plantation life after the era of sugarcane farming had ended.

Creque (pronounced "creaky") Dam Road (Route 58), by Sprat Hall Plantation, is the other route through the rain forest; it's recommended for four-wheel-drive vehicles. This rugged road also takes you into the heart of the moist forest. Creque Dam itself is a 45-foot-high structure ringed by towering kapok and sandbox trees covered with Spanish moss. Creque Dam Road then connects with Scenic Road (Route 78) on the north side of the island.