|Island Notes: First half of the 20th century in Grand Bahama|
|Monday, 12 September 2011 08:37|
In the early 20th century not much happened on the island. To illustrate this fact the Commissioner reported that the revenue of the island was only £15. 5. 3 !!! (even at today’s prices that is still less $300 !). He claimed the morals of the islanders had improved (!) but, apart from John Martin, who owned 60 cows, and sponge fishing on the Little Bahama Bank there was little enterprise to be found in Grand Bahama. Indeed the island was losing population once again!
All this was to change in 1919 when the United States passed the Volstead Prohibition Act. Seen from the viewpoint of today it was a remarkable idea. At the stroke of a pen it was thought that a whole nation would overnight stop drinking alcohol! Well it didn’t work … and Nassau, Bimini and West End helped to frustrate the intent of the Act.
The most remarkable event at West End during Prohibition was the night one of the American-based ‘mobs’ raided the place. Armed with tommy guns they broke into liquor warehouses looking for cash. On this occasion Cecil Hepburn’s father (see the note I wrote on Cecil later) was tied to a table while they ransacked his place looking for money. But there were lean pickings; the mobsters got perhaps $8000 in cash. Their raid was ill-starred however, since on the very same morning, the Nassau liquor merchants in West End had sent their money (all $ 250,000 of it!) to Nassau on the leaky old mail boat! To keep law and order West End in these days had a commissioner and two unarmed policemen ...
After Prohibition ended some developers came to Grand Bahama looking to build a city roughly located where Freeport is today. They prepared a map on which the site of their city was marked, it was to be called: Fairfield. But nothing more was heard of the venture …
In 1939 the population was just over 2000 people. It was not until well into the 1940’s that the population of Grand Bahama exceeded that of the Lucayan Indians.
During WWII the Duke of Windsor (governor of the Bahamas at the time) visited the Grand Bahama Packing Company, later known as Bahama Seafoods. He arrived on the Southern Cross, a yacht owned by Axel Wenner-Gren who was commonly believed to be Hitler’s spy in chief in the Bahamas …
In 1944 the Abaco Lumber Company moved to Grand Bahama. This was not so significant as the man who owned the company. That man was, of course, Wallace Groves.
The lumber company had a railway which ran on a permanent track between the harbour and Pine Ridge. The track ran along what nowadays we call Government Road. It used to stop to take on water near what is today the Petroleum Products service station. More track was laid and then taken up as the lumbering operations expanded eastwards. Up until recently wooden sleepers (ties) could be seen at the edge of the road.
The company had two antediluvian steam locomotives numbers 4 and 5. One day Locomotive No. 5 exploded with the sound of a thunderbolt and killed and injured a few people. A government enquiry was instituted which found the cause to be human error. The locomotive engineer had closed the safety valve to increase steam pressure to climb a small incline … then gone for lunch!
Just after the World War II Wallace Groves used to sit at the pink house at the slip at the mouth of Hawksbill Creek (the house was still there last time I looked). He dreamed that one day there would be a magnificent harbour where then, there were only mud flats, he dreamed of an international airport, he dreamed of schools, houses, churches in fact he dreamed of creating a major city ...
And, as you all know, it all became a reality.Island Notes is contributed by Peter Barratt, extracted from his new book: "FREEPORT NOTEBOOK”. This new book is, in some ways, supplementary to his other, better-known work, 'GRAND BAHAMA', a text that has gone through three editions and will shortly be published in a new edition. He has some very interesting notes on the early history of Freeport but, he admits himself, he should have taken a correspondence course in poetry writing. Barratt's books are available in Grand Bahama at Oasis drug store, the Rand Nature Centre, Bahamian Tings and the Garden of the Groves shops. In Nassau his books are available at most bookshops on the island.
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