Astrolabe

Vanishing Culture: Preserving the Images of Provo’s Past

By Jessica Brody ~ Photos Courtesy Turks & Caicos National Museum, Ludington & McCollum Collection

The beaches, diving, snorkeling and remote location of the Turks & Caicos Islands create the ideal image of a “get-away” spot for many visitors, but in the 1970s, the Islands were truly a place to get away from it all. The Turks & Caicos National Museum recently took in a slide collection that shows exactly how different the Islands were from the TCI we know today.
Grace Bay Beach circa 1970

Grace Bay Beach circa 1970

The beaches, diving, snorkeling and remote location of the Turks & Caicos Islands create the ideal image of a “get-away” spot for many visitors, but in the 1970s, the Islands were truly a place to get away from it all. The Turks & Caicos National Museum recently took in a slide collection that shows exactly how different the Islands were from the TCI we know today.

A whirlwind introduction

In Fall 2009, I made my first trip to the Turks & Caicos Islands. The Museum needed help re-organizing its library and archives, which were the last cleaning efforts after Hurricane Ike. As soon as we touched down at the Providenciales airport and I was met by Museum Director Neal Hitch, I learned the pace of work at the National Museum. With only a few short hours before we continued onto Grand Turk, our day of meetings and running errands immediately began.

Dr. Hitch and I stopped by Brenda Ludington’s new ceramic shop for an informal chat, which soon turned to museum business. Brenda had something to show us. She pulled out a photo album and directed our attention to a rare sight: Grace Bay before extensive development began. I had been sightseeing from the car all morning and instantly recognized the significance of the image. The picture before me showed soft grass and long empty beaches, a far cry from the bustling resorts of today. The image brought to mind a much quieter island: Providenciales of the 1970s.

Brenda returned to the Turks & Caicos two years ago, but has a long history with the Islands. She witnessed much of the development of Provo, including the “new” airport. The picture in her album that most captured my imagination was of a group gathered on a flatbed. Brenda explained that these gatherings were actually “board meetings” for Provident Limited, a land development company. Since vehicles were scarce, reviewing sites often meant board members piling into the back of one truck and discussing business from the field. As Brenda told the story, I began to get an “image” of the adventure that was life on these Islands.

We began brainstorming who else might be interested in donating images to the museum. James McCollum, long time resident of Provo, avid diver and pilot instantly came into the conversation. Jimmy’s visits to the TCI began in 1969 and continued for 40 years (and counting). In fact, the pictures he had taken during those years were recently used as part of a celebration of his 40th year on Provo and his 85th birthday. Brenda was one of the party planners and had recognized the historical value of the pictures. She had already suggested to Jimmy that the pictures become part of the museum’s permanent collections and after a short phone call to confirm, we were in the car again and on the way to “Jimmy’s.”

Brenda’s donation had consisted of two photo albums and a small box of select items. In my mind’s eye, I imagined Jimmy’s collection to be of a similar size. I was in for a surprise. When we walked into the house, the most notable feature was the mound of boxes piled high in the living room. Each box contained a carousel of 35mm slides. I did some quick math: at least 20 carousels lay at my feet — assuming 50 slides per box that would be about 1,000 slides.

I was not even close. The collection contained more than 2,000. As we gingerly bounced down the back roads of Provo with the new acquisitions, I took stock of my first day. I had met government officials and cultural icons, but the highlight was meeting Brenda and Jimmy. From the two Provo residents I received a whirlwind introduction to Providenciales and the TCI and the project of my career.

Preservation of images

Fishing in 1970s Providenciales

Fishing in 1970s Providenciales

Due to the delicate nature of photography, original images have many natural enemies. As a medium, slides generally last for 50 years, but preventing deterioration of the image is a constant battle. In a normal household environment, they can begin to fade in 10 to 20 years. Particularly, exposure to light and water (even humidity) can deteriorate an image before its time. Simply resting an image against another object puts a photograph at risk. Think of old pictures that fade around the edges. The parts of the picture that touch the frame are absorbing the acid in the framing material, corroding the picture.

Slide collections have all the conservation concerns of a traditional photograph but with added complications. Unlike traditional photos, which are viewed with the naked eye, slides are viewed with an outside light source. Once a convenient method for showing off vacation photos at the neighborhood barbecue, the design now presents issues of long-term preservation. Each time the slide is viewed in a projector it is exposed to intense light. This causes the image to irreparably fade. Slides, unlike photographs, have no negatives from which to print another copy. Once the original image deteriorates, it is lost forever.

Early 1970s photo of The Third Turtle Inn in Turtle Cove

Early 1970s photo of The Third Turtle Inn in Turtle Cove

Slide images are produced when a positive image is captured on a transparent background. The dye used to create those images is the factor that determines the severity of the reaction to light. The McCollum collection includes two types of film: Ektachrome and Kodachrome, both manufactured by Kodak. Ektachrome slides are manufactured with dye known to resist fading under the intense light of a projector, but develop yellow stains in dark storage areas. In contrast, Kodachrome slides retain color vibrancy in storage, but fade rapidly when exposed to a projector’s light. To properly care for slides with such varying reactions, decisions must be made as to the best course of preservation.

Finally arriving at the museum, I surveyed the new collections. The McCollum slides document life on Provo from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. Within the collection are images of the progressive development of the Third Turtle, one of the first resorts on Provo, underwater diving excursions, and the construction of homes on the island. As one views the collection in chronological order, the whole process of construction unfolds; from the unloading of parts at the dock, to the parties held in the finished buildings.

The McCollum slides were stored in plastic carousels and cardboard boxes. Over the short term, these materials are adequate for storage, but in the archive world, the goal is for images to last for hundreds of years. As plastic and cardboard age, they breakdown at the molecular level. This causes caustic chemicals to slowly release, a process known as off-gassing. Over time, acidic microenvironments develop, leaving collections suffocating in their own home. Taking the slides out of their toxic containers and placing them in safe storage was the first priority.

To complete the preservation process, I worked closely with a museum staff member to remove, number, and transfer to archival quality slide sleeves each of the 2,142 slides. The slides will be stored permanently in the museum’s climate controlled storage room. Keeping collections at a constant temperature and humidity level is imperative in slowing the natural chemical process of deterioration.

Practicality prohibits archivists from describing or scanning every single item in an image collection. Having the collection accessible, however, is an important step in the preservation process. Preparing digital surrogates to import into the database and developing individual descriptions is incredibly labor intensive, but selecting representative images to place in the database provides a comprehensive overview of the images available.

Pictures, like those highlighted in this article, were chosen from the collections as a visual sample. Digital copies were created by scanning the images as high quality TIFF files. These TIFF files capture details at a higher resolution than the more common JPEG files, allowing archivists to save as much information in the images as possible. After the digital surrogates were entered into the database we attached detailed descriptions. Now the images can be searched by word or subject, providing access to the photographs and a window into the larger collection.

The journey of Brenda and Jimmy’s photos from Provo to long-term storage is a typical one for archival records. Transferring materials to acid-neutral containers and cataloging items guarantee their continued survival and accessibility. Without this meticulous process, the memories held in private collections stay . . . well, private. The completion of this project leaves the fragile originals stored in stable environments and, more importantly, the collections secure Provo’s years of growth as a living memory for future generations.

The museum would like acknowledge Brenda Ludington, who has become a great friend of the museum. Without her involvement, this acquisition project would not have been possible. The author extends a special thanks for her assistance in the writing of this article. Brenda Ludington is the proprietor of Paradise Arts in Providenciales, located at Neptune Plaza, Suite 105.



12 Comments

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Cougar Den Storage
Jun 11, 2010 16:31

wait, the turtle cove in wasn’t in provo was it?!

Tracy Durand
Jun 25, 2010 12:10

Loved your article! My family and I stayed at the Third Turtle Inn in 1976 and 1977 – over my 10th and 11th birthdays. I have not since visited a place such as Provo in the 1970’s. My husband and I went back to Provo in 2002, and it has changed so much. Although still very beautiful, I long for the times when the Third Turtle was only one of two resorts on the island. I vividly remember Ooh Aah Hill and Strawberry Bay – exploring the island was incredible. Luckily, I have a lot of photos and movies of the times we were there. I hope to get back one day soon to see the museum and compare notes!!

Tracy

Julie S.
Apr 22, 2011 9:54

Thank you for the wonderful article!!

LOVED this place. My first visit was in 1974 and we stayed at the Third Turtle Inn. I’m not so sure there was another hotel on the island at that time, I might be wrong. We flew a Shrike Commander in and barely had enough runway to stop! One of the Duponts could slide his Lear 24 in somehow!!!!!!! I believe the old runway services as part of a road through the area now. I don’t recall too many buildings around. There was a locals hang called the Monkey Bar and there was also a really small grocery store a short drive from the Inn. I have no pictures, but we had a couple of reels of film that I haven’t been able to find over the years.

It was absolutely beautiful back then. I returned in 01′ and it had lost some of it’s natural beauty with all the development. The old Third Turtle Inn had been taken over by Haitian squatters and the building you see on the page was falling into the water. Coral reefs have taken a bit of a hit too. I would encourage people to go to Provo and I would return myself; I am just glad I got to see it in it’s full glory before the ‘rush’ to develop!

I will most certainly stop by the museum on my next visit!!

Julie

Ray Telford
Feb 26, 2013 12:17

in the early 80s came into to provo from porta plata on tcna,the plane was a old bush plane with a canadian pilot.checked into a small hotel,the name of hotel will not come to me at this time,upon arrival the women would hang there shoes behind the bar on the mirror.truly a special place to chill out!!!!!

Alfred Rappoli
Jul 16, 2013 10:34

We first visited Provo in 1974 and bought an acre on Cooper Jack Bight fron Provident Ltd. We still own the property next to what used to be Tommy Coleman’s home overlooking the marina. Names that still come to mind are Art Pickering, Russ De Coudres’s “Provo Times” “Published Now and Then just for You” and Bengt Soderquist. We are here now staying at the Palm Breeze Villas on Cooper Jack Bay Road and it is still a great place to visit. It is amazing to see how much the island has changed.

Tom Acheson
Jun 24, 2014 19:14

My dad joe Acheson was the head electrician at two turtles inn in exuma then went down to Provo with fritz, ray ward,tommy Coleman and built the third turtle inn. I remember as a kid flying out of lantana loaded to the max in fritz,s dc3 all the way to Provo. My name is Tom Acheson and i learned to love fishing and diving between Georgetown and Provo what a treat . If I remember right fritz had two sons Pete and boots and wife Chris is Brenda ludington any relation? I probably have pictures from then somewhere .

Monique van der Sman
Sep 29, 2015 16:13

I’m from The Netherlands. We stayed in the Third Turtle many times during the years 1979/1980. My mom, Michelle, was a pilot an our base was on Grand Turk. She often flew me to Provo and we stayed in The Third Turtle. I even remember taking a dog home with us, who was left behind by one of the guests. I was 9 years old at the time. I’d like to get in contact with anyone who knew her. She worked for Air Florida.

Capt. Wm. Stafford MSc. (Retired)
Jul 19, 2016 20:37

I worked off & on for Florida Airmotive as a teen in the 70’s while upgrading my FAA ratings. Often I tagged along as co-pilot on board Twin Beech N170LG with retired US Marine Corps pilot & WWll fighter ace Col. Hunter Reinburg, and the DC-3 N167LG with retired Air Force Capt. Mike Scherer..

Third Turtle Inn had an office at Lantana, & I remember the Ludington Family quite well when they would come thru the facilities at LNA. We always enjoyed our lunch next to the cave at the Inn, and a swim in the cove which the restaurant / bar overlooked.

We would always low-pass the hotel in order to let them know we had arrived, and clearing Customs & Immigration was pure and simple. No control tower, a runway w/ coral embankments, and a VW bus to take passengers to the hotel on unpaved roads.

I also remember Alan Axt, a Provo local who soloed at LNA in 5 hours of flight time. The achievement made the local paper in Florida. He later bought a Cessna 150 which I believe he used for island hopping locally.

Now in my 60’s and retired from the aerospace industry in both civilian and military capacities, Provo would be the ideal retirement place. But the prerequisites of permanent residency requirements are costly.

Hence, my family & I have lived in New Zealand for 13+ years now; and we have seen remarkable changes here, including the cost of a 3 bedroom home in Auclkand averaging NZ$1 million!

Let’s hope that Provo never follows suit in that regard, making retirement unaffordable there…!

Those who made Provo a great place with it’s mystique of past histories have all passed on now; I can picture still in my mind’s eye Col. Reinburg walking out to the Twin Beech with Customs Declarations in hand for the trip back to LNA., or Dick DuPont in the cockpit of his DC-3! Or my very dear friend and mentor, Capt. Mike Scherer, having a swim in the lagoon, and then ordering a lobster sandwich at the bar.

Best wishes to all from Kiwi-Land

Capt. Wm. Stafford
North Island,
NEW ZEALAND

K. Bushnell
Aug 13, 2016 19:39

When the Air Florida travel agent trips came in, back in the early 80’s, I saw all the popular islands listed and then Providenciales..a place I’d never heard of. I signed immediately and found myself in Paradise at the Third Turtle Inn. Bougainvillea filled the rooms, Haitian cotton bedspreads on the handhewn beds and the most unbelievably colored crystal clear water. We dove for dinner…lobster and conch… watched it cooked, spent the most glorious days of my life surrounded by that magnificent ocean experience. The tiny plane on dirt runway were an adventure in itself but nothing could have prepared me for the place that will always make me wish I had stayed. I could not return now. It would break my heart.

K. Bushnell
Aug 13, 2016 19:40

p.s. Still have the brochure and my Third Turtle Inn handmade clay ashtray!

paul pefley
Oct 29, 2016 19:02

I don’t quite know how i found this website but I worked for Gassaway in 1977 and lied about my age to get the job.I miss my friends Cevelbar, Suttle, Wagner, Clapper, Scheer, John Odonnelll, Boone stribling Jr, I love the memories of ice run to walkers with Mike. It was a COOL ride but there was lots of water dripping out of the belly,

Paul Pefley 772.214.2166

Martha McGhee
Sep 14, 2017 19:05

Wow! Blast from the past! My dad, Glover McGhee (may his memory be green) mom Joanne, sis Jan and I stayed at the Third Turtle every year around Christmas time for most of the 70s. Remember Mr. DuPont and his spotless DC3 (no oil on the wings, ever!!), my dad and two or three others putting their engineering heads together to install a solar and wind generator system at *somebody’s* house, dad and two other pilots flying formation *far* too low over the TTI, diving with Art and taking the resulting lobster into the kitchen to be cooked, dances with the local band that knew one 6-song set and played it over and over and over, best Johnny Cash impersonator ever (was his nickname “Stud”?) and his old dog who “sang”, being superfluous “crew” on sailboats . . . still have my swingin’ turtle medallion!
They may build a new hotel on the site, but it will never be the same!

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