Invisible City

St. Martin is full of cities with stories. We know their past and their present day identity. For a small island, it has a surprising number of distinct cultural centers. That’s one of the things that makes it such a great place to live or visit.

Philipsburg was a center of salt production in the past, and today is one of the region’s busiest cruise ship ports. Grand Case was a sleepy fishing village turned into a gourmet paradise. Simpson Bay was also a sleepy fishing village that is now packed with restaurants and nightlife. Marigot was the peak of chic in the 1980s, and Colombier the breadbasket of the island where traditional life is still celebrated.

By comparison, French Quarter is a bit of an invisible city. It was the first place where the French settled in the 1600s and it is one of the bigger towns on the island, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention in history books or travel guides. A large part of the population worked in the salt industry at Salines d’Orient for over 100 years, but I’ve never seen a single picture of salt production there.

A view of French Quarter.

Why don’t we know more about French Quarter? Perhaps because it is such a border town. The town is technically French, but it has always had close ties to the Dutch Side. French Quarter children would walk to school in Philipsburg back in the day because Marigot was harder to reach. Orleans Hardware is still the place to go on the French side if you need 3/4 inch pipe instead of two centimeter. The town may have been too far from the center of power on the French side and more integrated into the side of the island that wasn’t responsible for recording its history.

Today, French Quarter is also largely removed from the main industry on the island, tourism. On TripAdvisor, it has listings for six restaurants and zero hotels. Grand Case, by comparison has 47 restaurants and 18 hotels. Not every town has to be a tourism mecca, but how can a town thrive when it isn’t part of the island’s main industry?

French Quarter is an important place with a rich history. It has homes and buildings that are beautiful examples of local architecture. It exemplifies St. Martin’s greatest strength, the connection of people in communities that transcend nationality and political boundaries. It is an invisible city that deserves a share of the spotlight.

French Quarter isn’t invisible to the people who live there or have roots there. Perhaps we can work together to shine a light on this invisible city. Do you have stories or images of French Quarter? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

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