The land, on the grounds of a former Dutch slave-labor sugar plantation, remains in essentially the same condition it did in 1954, when, following the semi-independence of the Netherlands Antilles, the Dutch owners sold it to Emilio Wilson. As the grandson of a former slave, Wilson had worked for the family as a tailor and caretaker to the children. Despite numerous offers to sell the land for as much as $20 million, Wilson retained the property as a legacy to the slave history of the island.
In 2001 he formed a foundation to transform the grounds into a living museum. Featured buildings will include a reconstructed slave quarters, a “wattle house” built by former slaves after the abolition of slavery on the Dutch side in 1863, an outhouse, an overseer’s watch house, and a school. Wilson was determined to preserve St. Maarten’s history throughout its rapid transformation from a depressed and depleted former colony to a tropical tourist destination - the cultural center has the potential to be a manifestation of the necessary bridge between tourism and memory. As tens of thousands of U.S. and European tourists crowd the island’s beaches each year, coming by airplane or cruise ship, here, on the grounds of a former plantation, is a straightforward testament to the force, suffering, and opportunity that created the possibility for their pleasure.
Decision time for Emilio Wilson Estate Read Blog at St.Maarten Private Eye >>