The Road to Development

nj lottery

breaking-rock1A fascinating tale of Provo’s first “highway”.
By Katya Brightwell ~ Photos By Steve Passmore, Provo Pictures
Historical Photos Courtesy Bengt Soderqvist

“It was built with hand. You could ride it with bicycle and then we find ourselves riding cars on it.” James Dean, Wheeland

Poised at a crossroads for busy Leeward Highway, waiting ever-longer for the increasing stream of traffic to pass before joining, it is almost impossible to believe that not too long ago there were no cars on Providenciales. No cars, no trucks, no taxis, no jitneys. And no paved roads.
We take it for granted that travelling from Downtown to Grace Bay and from Blue Hills to Silly Creek, through the Bight to Long Bay and around Discovery Bay to Five Cays is as easy as it is. Every month, new black tar appears on old roads, relegating yet another bumpy journey to the past, and new roads open to new land, new homes, new resorts, new areas of the island to discover.
Yet less than two generations back, the only mode of transport (on land) in Providenciales was bicycle, and you were lucky to be riding one of those. There were five on the island — three in Blue Hills and two in Five Cays. You had sand roads and bush roads and your feet and that was that.
It was in 1956 that the government representative for the island, Gustavus Lightbourne, decided to try something. Blue Hills, then the commercial centre of Providenciales, was chosen as the location. The idea was to transform that sandy road stretching along the beachfront, unkind to shoes and far from amenable to bicycles, into the first paved road in Providenciales. But it would be hard. There was no heavy machinery on the island to build the road. No bulldozers to flatten the land, no diggers to dig the ground, no cranes to lift the rocks, no trucks to carry the cement. There wasn’t even any electricity for a drill. This road — the first road in Providenciales — would have to be built by hand, by the hands of the people.
So for a decade, the inhabitants of Blue Hills laboured to pave sandy Front Road. The work was a central part of the entire community’s lives, and for some the small wages received served as bread and butter during those years of economic hardship. Many who were closely involved with the road’s creation are no longer with us, but here are the words of some of those who still are — a snapshot of a community which began Providenciales’ first road to development with their bare hands.

James Dean
James Dean is a deacon in his church and a renowned boatbuilder, as were his Bermudian grandfather, his father and his older brother before him. He lives happily with his wife Marjorie in Wheeland. His memory is crisp and his story told with a smile.

“It was right by the jetty, where the centre for aids people is now. There was a water well there, brackish water. We used to have to drink that in school days, somedays couldn’t get no better. And right there where that well is was the first piece of road made.
“Our teacher, Mrs. Oseta Jolly, Mrs. Howell’s mother, she showed me and my good friend, my cousin’s next-door neighbour, how to lay them rocks to build that first road. She showed how to hold that maul and control that pick-axe. Bless her, she was a schoolteacher. I was about 18, or close to that.
“We didn’t have no bulldozer, we didn’t have no truck to tote the stuff. So what they actually did, they divide the gang. The people from High Rock and the people from Wheeland. So they start from there and come down and we people from Wheeland, we start and come up.
“And that time, when the two roads met there we had a big brown sugar party! You mix brown sugar and water and drink. We had no ice, you know. No refrigeration was ’round here then, no electric or power, nothing. Only power that was ’round here was an outboard motor, but no refrigeration or nothing. Everything was hand work, real hard, real hard.
“Then Donna, Hurricane Donna came in 1960, 160 miles an hour. The sea came in and devastated the island. The Jamaican commissioner came here and said he just saw a mass of brown where the island was and he sent some aid.
“So the folks just depend on a little papa money, that’s what they calls it, a little aid from government. And a little road work. And they entirely depended on a little fishinin’ and farmin’. That was the island culture. I spent my time fishinin’. Going and catching crawfish. My wife was doing a bit of farmin’ all the way down Sandy Bay. Sweet potatoes, Indian corn, cassava, peas, lettuce, bean, pigeon peas, sugar cane. Those were tough times, tough times.
“So sometimes when the young folks talk now, ‘This road is so this, or this road so that,’ I say listen this was sand and when we wanna come from Wheeland to go to High Rock and put on our good shoes, the sand gone eat the heel off, because the sand get in the shoes and it rub and rub and rub and rub. Then sometimes we take the shoes off and walk with it in our hand and when we get the place we going put the shoes on. We had to do that ’cos things were tough. You couldn’t wear the shoes all the way up to High Rock ’cos it look like snow it so white. You wouldn’t know the color of the shoe. So we find a different plan. Sometime when the tide low we take the beach there. And when the tide high, we take the bush road, the sand road.
“So then we built a road. It was built with hand. You could ride it with bicycle and then we find ourselves riding cars on it. And when that road finish it was good, everyone was happy. Riding on bicycle in Blue Hills? Whoahhh!! That was amazing!”

Tom Lightbourne
Tom Lightbourne is Gustarvus Lightbourne’s son. Gustarvus Lightbourne OBE played an integral role in the political and economic development of the island during his long life and was also a renowned boat builder and avid sailor. He passed away in 2005. Tom is a local businessman, a respected member of the community and an active Rotarian.

“My father was the first local elected representative for Providenciales and one of the things that kept coming up was that there are no roads. So he said, ‘We can try to do something.’ So with whatever grant that was given to the colonies back then he started to experiment with building that road in Blue Hills. That was 1956.
“And I think it was about ten years of doing this thing by hand and we probably got about a mile and a half. So it would go from approximately where the Adventist church is down to where the basketball court is in Wheeland. We clear out the soft sand, get to a semi-hard base, and then we put rock on it. Then all around this island there’s a form of clay that cling together pretty good when you mix it and pound it, so the rocks was covered with that. And that was the beginnings of the road in Blue Hills.
“It was a real community effort. Hauling stones by hand all day long was no easy task.
“I know most of it from my father. I was 16 years old, between 16 and 18. On a couple of occasions he had to leave and left me to keep an eye on what was going on. I cracked a few stones but other than that I wasn’t too involved.
“At 15 I went out on a sloop to work. A regular old native sloop. Fifty feet. Six crew. I grew up fast on that boat. I was handed responsibilities and I was young. We did Bahamas mostly. Dominican Republic a few times but mostly Bahamas. We had a lot of Turks & Caicos Islanders move to the Bahamas and we were the connection from there to home. So we brought everything. People that wanted to send food back to their relatives and people here that wanted to send marine products back. We took them both. So we did this until Provident came and everything changed.
“So I only did the road work when I happened to be here, but I do remember it.
“There wasn’t an economy back then, so that’s the only work there was. I guess the only economy was salt based, and all that was spent in Grand Turk to pay civil servants. Not much money came to the other islands. The population in Blue Hills went down to below 600 at one time.
“All the men were fishermen unless they were too old and there weren’t many of them. So it was mostly women who did the road work. The women would carry the stones. A few men would put it in place. Intermittently over a period of ten years there was never more than three days a week that was put into this. There were times when he’d have as much as ten persons or a little as four or five working.
“The road was an experiment in Blue Hills. Nobody knew for sure if it would hold up with automotive traffic. But the base of that road was never changed. It’s still there. They added silt to it, graded it a few times, but the original base is still there. There haven’t been any major potholes, or any landslides. So I guess the experiment worked!”

Cecilia Walkin Pierre
Cecilia Walkin Pierre was born in Haiti. In her early teens, she was playing on the street one day in her hometown of Cap Haitien when she was approached by Fuller Walkin, a prominent member of the Blue Hills community. He was on a trade trip there, having sailed over with dried conch to exchange for flour, meat, fruit and other foodstuffs. Her family agreed that she would have a better future in the Turks & Caicos Islands, so she was dressed up as a boy to leave the country safely under the infamous Papa Doc regime. Taken in by Fuller Walkin and his wife, Clementina, as one of their own, she has lived in Providenciales ever since.

“When I come into Provo, there was no jobs. I used to work field with Ma Clem, every day go in the field, that’s what I used to do. By Pigeon Pond. When I come there was no gas cars. Only the bush and the house. I used to walk to Five Cays and back.
“After Government gave jobs cut rocks for the road to help people to walk. When the road open the first day, I work on the road. I work for government and I used to get Jamaican money. I used to get five dollars pay. When we need to change the money, we have to go in South Caicos. After you go South Caicos to change money, it’s small money!
“No plenty Haitian people in Provo before I came you know. I didn’t know nothing about Turks Islands. I never hear English before.
“After he bring me here, Pa Fuller he die. He die before me and before Ma Clem. I wasn’t seen no-one die. After he finished die I cry, I cry, I cry and I see nobody no more who bring me here and I know nobody. After he buried I shove my hand in the hole in the grave and shout, ‘Pa Fuller come come, Pa Fuller come. You see my hand, come up. I miss you.’ Then a man come and take me home and tell me Pa Fuller dead and he’s not coming back no more.
“My mummy died. My daddy died. But I still have lots of family in Cap Haitien. I send money to them. I always send money back home. I was happy I working. I get up in the morning and do something for Ma Clem before I leave. I cook for her. I used to come back 3 o’clock from the government work.
“I think I be 14 when I helped build the road. That was hard work! I start 8 o’clock. I had to dig the rocks. And I throw the rocks in the sand. Only me the one Haitian. There was one girl smaller than me she work too. She English (means Belonger). After that I work with government all the time, I used to clean the schools Northside.
“God bless me I live so long. God bless Pa Fuller.”

Gloria Kathleen Parker and
Eric Wellington “Biggy” Parker
Gloria and Eric “Biggy” Parker were a young couple with young children when the road work started. Eric brags how he proposed to Gloria in the moonlight on a sloop traveling from Grand Turk to Providenciales on Christmas 1947, after a frisky Eric tried to rest his head on her arm and “she nearly broke my head.” She was 17, he was 22. They married three years later. Eric spent almost 30 years at sea and survived four shipwrecks working to feed his family. When he was home he would work the road with his wife. Now in their 80s, they are surrounded by great-grandchildren and still live in Wheeland.

Eric: “Things were hard. But the Caicos Islands, they were always in a better shape than the headquarters, than Grand Turk. Because we used to work our field, work our farm, get our potatoes, corn, peas, bananas, cassava and even yam. Beside that we make our voyage. Get our conchs and go to Haiti, bring back boatloads of corn and (he laughs) liquor . . . but Grand Turk had to depend on the freight boat to come.
“But when you see bad weather that’s when Blue Hills people suffer. If we get three, four weeks where no boat goes out it’s pretty tough.”

Gloria: “Sometimes he’d be gone six weeks. After I started children they were my company. I would have been the mother of thirteen but only my three daughters survived.
“That’s the most time I had to do the road — when he was away. Because when he go off and the little money finish, I got to go and get some because I had the children to take care of.”

Eric: “We get the rocks through the bushes. You take a machete and cut. And take a pick axe and crow bar and break the rock up to the size and bring it out. And after that we get the small rock and we beat it on that same rock, over that same rock. When we done that we get to the place where you get the mud, the red mud. You get close by one of them pond and you get your pick axe and your shovel and your bucket and you tote the mud and mud the road. And we build the road just like that. From High Rock straight down here to this road here. And that’s how we get the road.
“Gus Lightbourne was the foreman. Good man and good job!”

Gloria: “Oh, it was hard work! We used to have to go and tote rock through the bushes on your head. In the hot sun direct on the head. Bring it out, put it in the road. Then you’d have to beat it. You take the hammer. Ain’t no man to spread it, you spread it out yourself. Then when time to do the mud, you’d sprinkle with a little water. Put the mud on it.
“Sometimes people come across, they look at us, sitting outside in the blinding sun hot and beating the rocks and sometimes they play games: ‘Look at them, they beating rocks.’ But that’s all we gotta do, to get somethin’ for our children.
“But the sun used to be hot sometime. You sitting out in that broilin’ sun hot. God bless Mr. Lightbourne, sometime he’d mix a little lemonade and bring on the road and give us something just for us to drink. But that sun used to be well hot.”

Both: “They were hard-working days.”

Gloria: “We just make our jokes and go along with our work. We sang. It was like church out on that road sometimes! But everyone cry, ‘The sun hot, the sun hot.’”

Eric: “Sometimes when the crowd was big, you couldn’t work every week. Say a dozen worked this week, then the next week some had to drop, so everyone get a chance.”

Gloria: “Eric, how much we used to get being on the road?”

Eric: “Two shillings a day. Woman would get one.”

Gloria: “I didn’t worry about that because I was glad to get that one. Even my children. They used to go on the road too. After they grow, I get them on the road to help me after school. Things was very hard you know.
“Yes, when I look to see how we struggle on that road. Toting rock, beating rock, toting mud and water, sprinklin’ and spreadin’ out. And they never even mention our name to say where the road start. No credit we get. When they start the road this time, I look for them to mention our name. But they never did.”

Eric: “It’s the grace of God that’s brought us through.”

In 1966, developers Provident arrived on Providenciales. Their bulldozer completed Front Road in Blue Hills that same year. And the cars came. “We put the first motor vehicle on the island here on November 22, 1966,” remembers Bengt Soderqvist, one of the Provident pioneers. “We had built a little dock up at Heaving Down Rock and I had an 8mm camera with me. And when we backed our jeep ashore, I had someone stand there holding a sign with the date on it, so we had that on record.”
Provident’s arrival signalled a new era for the island. One of the first things they did was build roads. “Before you can build on a piece of land you must be able to have access to it. So roads are a very essential part of development,” states TCI Director of Road Safety Richard Garland. In fact, these last few years of development have seen more roads built in the Turks & Caicos Islands than in any of its neighbours in the Caribbean, with over 200 hundred miles paved and over half of these in Providenciales alone. In 2003, the four-lane asphalted Leeward Highway was born, the first of its kind in the country and its completion heralding a new phase of modernity in the Islands.
Today, Gregory Lightbourne, raised by his grandfather Gus, is the government representative for Blue Hills. Following his election in 2007, Front Road was re-paved, re-graded and asphalted for the first time. It is now smooth tarmac and runs along the breadth of Blue Hills, from High Rock to Wheeland, parallel to the turquoise sea. It is lined by a multitude of restaurants and bars, its upgrade encouraging further development in the area.
“I mean through it all, we came from far,” smiles James Dean, with pride. “A lot of guys believed that Turks & Caicos would never have no black road. This the first time it ever rose to this pitch.”
In the rush and excitement of development, it is sometimes easy to forget those that helped make the Turks & Caicos Islands what it is today; those that stayed to keep these Islands functioning when the economy was low and times were hard — not that many years ago. Those men who spent weeks away from their families at sea, and those women who spent hours under that broilin’ hot sun, cracking rocks and spreading mud, were in truth laying the foundation blocks of the Provo we know today. The base of that road now speeded down by thousands of cars is the very same one that Gustavus Lightbourne drove down with the first truck in Blue Hills in 1967; that very same base was built by the bare hands of the people over those ten long years before. Their efforts marked a turning point in development in these Islands and fed the generation that helped build the next base for this country. They need to be remembered.

Author’s Notes: High Rock is the area where you first come into Blue Hills as soon as you see the sea. A large rock, since sunken by hurricanes, used to protrude from the water there. A Buttonwood tree now stands where it was.
Cecilia’s move from Haiti to Providenciales is not a unique one. Over the years, many Blue Hills families adopted Haitian youngsters to help in times of economic hardship.
According to Tom Lightbourne, for a while all three currencies were used interchangeably in Providenciales — English old pounds, Jamaican dollars and US dollars.

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