Resort Report

A Phoenix on North Caicos

Bottle Creek Lodge opens again.

By Jody Rathgeb~ Images Courtesy Bottle Creek Lodge

Here’s a new adage for the Islands: You can’t keep a good tourist site down. Proof? Bottle Creek Lodge on North Caicos, which has opened to guests for the third time in nearly 30 years.

The new Bottle Creek Lodge, under the ownership of Jim Brown and Melanie Lee-Brown, overlooks Bottle Creek in the Readymoney area of North Caicos. The site offers two open-concept cabanas—named Seaside and Treehouse—each of 225 square feet, with furnished kitchenette, dining space, bathroom and private screened porch. While there is no air conditioning—ceiling fans, floor fans and the breeze off the creek provide plenty of comfort. Another accommodation, the two-room, 450-square-foot Elizabeth’s Cabana, is currently undergoing renovation.

The new Bottle Creek Lodge, under the ownership of Jim and Melanie Lee-Brown, overlooks Bottle Creek in the Readymoney area of North Caicos.

The Bottle Creek Lodge buildings descend from the main road to the edge of the creek along paths lined with trees and plants that explain North Caicos’ reputation as the Garden Island. Planted and enhanced by previous owners, they include aloes, sea grape, papaya, banana, sour orange, limes, coconut and sugar apple: a cornucopia of vegetation. At the base of the property, a dock provides access to Bottle Creek. Kayaks, snorkeling gear and bicycles are available for guests.

Discovery and deliberation

As Jim Brown tells the story, “In October 2006 we were looking for a plot of land to buy here on North Caicos, a place to eventually build our retirement home.” They enjoyed a stay at Bottle Creek Lodge, then owned by Sandy and Jay Johnson. “Two years later was the one-two punch of hurricanes Hanna and Ike. Bottle Creek Lodge sustained significant damage from the storms and never reopened. Jay occasionally came back and worked on liquidating some assets […] but otherwise the place was abandoned and hurricane damage was left unrepaired. Over the years we would drive past when we were on visits to North Caicos, and reminisce about our great stay there.”

On one of those trips, in 2015, Jim and Melanie saw a “For Sale” sign on the gate. Jim continues, “Melanie and I are biology professors in North Carolina, and we were both feeling increasingly burned-out and ready for a change. We agreed that we were at a ‘fork in the road’ in our careers; we could either change now or run out our careers until full retirement. So when we saw the ‘For Sale’ sign, we looked at each other and thought the same thing.”

After much thought and discussion, the Browns completed a purchase in the summer of 2016 and began renovations. There was much to be done, and much history to both honor and build on.

Hilton-Gibbs-Johnson

The main stone-and-frame structure on the property was built as a private home by Englishman Fred Hilton. When Howard Gibbs bought it in 1997, some time after Hilton’s death, he focused on turning the property into an eco-lodge. He expanded the main house (adding a restaurant), built the cottages and a workshop, and worked extensively in the gardens. His vision was to keep the lodge ecologically sustainable and small; Gibbs even installed composting toilets in the cottages, hoping to draw tourists who wanted to live lightly while exploring another land and culture.

When the Johnsons purchased the place in the early 2000s, the focus shifted toward fishing. Sandy and Jay built a boathouse, dock and boardwalk and ran fishing charters out of the property while maintaining it as a guest lodge and restaurant. The hurricanes, however, put an end to their efforts.

Seaside was home to the Browns while they renovated and improved the Bottle Creek Lodge property.

According to Brown, “After Hanna and Ike in 2008, the place was empty and continued to succumb to weather and damage for eight years. When we bought Bottle Creek Lodge, one of the cabanas (we call it Seaside) was in good enough shape for us to live in while we worked on it and the other buildings. The other small cabana (we call it Treehouse) was in much greater need of repair, both inside and out. The roof of the larger two-room cabana (we call it Elizabeth’s Cabana) had a flat roof which also served as the deck for the main house. It was in very poor condition. The roof had been leaking for eight years, the siding was rotten, and there was standing water inside. The main house also had a leaky roof on the incorporated spaces of the front and back porches, but was generally sound. The workshop was also in good shape, except that water blown in under the open eaves had soaked all the remaining fixtures, tools and hardware, converting them to rust. Everything that had been at the waterline, including the boathouse and elaborate dock and boardwalk, had been destroyed by the hurricanes.”

The Browns set to work in the summer of 2016, doing what they could themselves, but hiring Kenny Higgs and Kenneth Hall for most of the renovations: replacing the roof, wiring and plumbing; re-doing interior walls; repairing cisterns; and doing renovations to the kitchen and bathroom. Seaside and Treehouse renovations have been completed, and there is a new, smaller dock. Work is still under way on the larger cabana, workshop and gardens.

Open/closed/open

When Seaside and Treehouse were ready for occupancy, the Browns set a soft opening of the lodge for February 2020. A month later, it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bottle Creek Lodge opened again for the 2021 season, with the pandemic keeping rates at lower levels.

The challenges of hurricanes and a virus were joined by those of meeting requirements for doing businesses in the Turks & Caicos, compounded by the timing of trying to open during a pandemic. The Browns credit many people in both the US and TCI for help in hurdling those hoops, including Karen Preikschat, “Poacher” Missick, Tekarrah Williams, Gordon Kerr, Sarah Knight, Eve and Ernie Quant and Janet and Ron Holmes. Preikschat has even become their manager as they wait for permanent resident certificates.

Recognising that Bottle Creek Lodge belongs as much to the island as to them, the Browns decided to keep the name instead of trying to come up with a new one. Melanie notes, “[W]e decided that [the] history and identity of Bottle Creek Lodge were too important. People are always interested in the story of the evolution of this property from humble abode to a thriving business on a beautiful ocean creek. We see bits of everyone who lived and worked there, and keeping those memories alive was important to us. The name also invokes feelings of tranquility, adventure and comfort. We hope every guest feels all of these at some point during their visit with us.”

Rising Phoenix

At the base of the Bottle Creek Lodge property, a dock provides access to Bottle Creek. Kayaks are available for guests.

Renovations at Bottle Creek Lodge will continue, and guest services will expand. Jim says they hope to begin serving breakfast to guests in 2022, and they are working on those approvals as well as prepping Elizabeth’s Suite. As this tourist phoenix rises again, the Browns say they want to involve as much of North Caicos as they can in the new Bottle Creek Lodge. “Our intention is to focus on creating a space that is relaxing and friendly,” he says. “We want to involve as many Islander businesses as possible for non-self-guided activities that guests may want. We want to be a hub . . . give people a place to stay, and then provide them access to local folks who already provide these services and can benefit from the business.”

For more information, visit BottleCreekLodge.com.

 



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Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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