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Page 1 of 1Total of 1 messages
Posted by:Feb 21st 2008, 06:29:38 am
Fig Tree News TeamThe Story of South Eleuthera
by Larry Smith

ROCK SOUND: Other than sun, sand and sea, South Eleuthera's attractions are rather modest - a landlocked ocean hole where you can feed the snappers, an 87-year-old fig tree spreading along the highway, and a historic Methodist manse.

The Mission House dates back two centuries, and has been meticulously restored as a museum and community centre. The work has been driven by Peter MacClean (a retired British helicopter pilot who looks every bit the part of a Methodist minister) and his wife Pat (who sold land on Eleuthera in the 1950s for Sir Sidney Oakes). A foundation, led by Chandra Sands, has raised over half a million dollars to support the project.

Plans to operate this two-storey frame house on the waterfront are now being drafted with the help of the Antiquities Corporation. The Mission has seen a lot of history in its time, and among the items featured in its museum will be obsolete medical equipment. That's because in 1942 the building became a clinic, courtesy of American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis.

Davis was chairman of Alcoa, the world's biggest producer of aluminium. He was also one of the famous 'three tycoons' who triple-handedly created Eleuthera's 20th century economy. The other two were a New England clothmaker named Austin Levy, and Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe.

Looking to avoid taxes and enjoy warm winters, these three were part of a wave of wealthy migrants who swept into the islands from the 1930s onward. They included mining millionaire Sir Harry Oakes who built Nassau's first airport, and Canadian beer baron E P Taylor, who developed Lyford Cay.

In fact, the flow of money was so great that the Royal Bank of Canada was moved to set up a trust company (later known as RoyWest) that pioneered tax shelters, with Arthur Vining Davis as its first president. After Davis retired from active management of Alcoa in the late 1940s, he became a land developer. And before his death in 1962, he had acquired some 30,000 acres on Eleuthera.

With fond memories of the Bahamas from his honeymoon, Austin Levy set up a dairy and poultry farm in 1936 on thousands of acres at Hatchet Bay. He took the place of a group of retired British officers who had started the original Hatchet Bay Company a decade earlier with the idea of quarrying limestone building blocks. It was this company that cut the channel from the sea to an inland lagoon, creating Hatchet Bay's hurricane-proof harbour.

Levy imported cattle from his Sherman Stock Farm in Massachusetts and supplied milk, eggs and ice cream to the Nassau market for decades. Even after he died in 1951, his plantation continued to employ hundreds and provided much of the infrastructure for nearby Alice Town. In addition to agricultural facilities, the operation featured restaurants, stores, a yacht club and a power plant.

But Hatchet Bay Farm was taken over by the government in 1975 for political reasons. And it's much-lamented closure nine years later will forever be associated with former prime minister Sir Lynden Pindling's gloating remark that state ownership had made the farm "the greatest success story in Bahamian agricultural history".

Meanwhile, Davis had developed his own employment-generating Three Tree Farm at Rock Sound, as well as a second home estate for the wealthy called the Rock Sound Club. In 1952 he wanted to build a 300-room hotel at Half Sound, but the government turned him down. So he sold out to airline pioneer Juan Trippe, who set himself up in Davis' former estate.

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