Island Visionary

The late “Fritz” Ludington helped initiate development on Providenciales.

By Dr. Carlton Mills ~ Images Courtesy Turks & Caicos National Museum

Over the last fifty years, what was once known only as Blue Hills (now Providenciales), has witnessed a remarkable transformation. One of the key players in this process was the late Frederick Ludington (affectionately known as Fritz).

Fritz Ludington is one of the original developers of Providenciales.

Fritz was an American who had investments in George Town, Exuma, The Bahamas where he built a small boutique hotel called Two Turtles. Fritz had put his life’s savings in this investment. His dream was to make Exuma his home. This was about to change.

One of the factors that impacted his life in The Bahamas was when the late Sir Lyndon Pindling became prime minister in the early 1960s. On assuming office, the Pindling administration embarked on a call for nationalization—the theme being The Bahamas is for Bahamians. Family members recalled that work permits fees increased astronomically overnight. Fritz saw this as a sign to get him out of The Bahamas. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when his boat was mysteriously burnt down. It was time to leave. Providenciales was next on his radar.

Fritz flew over Providenciales regularly en route to Puerto Rico. This island caught his eye from the air. He developed a fascination for it, realizing the enormous potential waiting below to be exploited. It was possibly the golden sandy beaches and the turquoise waters that attracted him. Subsequently, he decided to stop over and check out the possibilities. 

According to the 1960 Population Census, Providenciales had a population of about 518 persons.  At the time, there were no major roads, no public electricity supply and no running water and other essentials in Providenciales. This certainly presented a challenge for Fritz from the outset, but he was not deterred from his mission to embark on developing the island into a major tourism destination.  

In order to begin this mammoth task, Fritz had to first submit his development proposal to government for approval. The late Hon. Gustarvus Lightbourne, a member of the Legislature at the time, strongly argued with his colleagues for this project to be approved. He firmly believed that this initiative would be the project that would ignite the growth and development of the island.

The original developers of Providenciales are shown here during the dredging of Turtle Cove (from top left): Fritz Ludington, Allan Axt, Billy Dodson, Embry Rucker, Jessy Deets, Bengt Soderqvist, Bill Watts and Bob Kellogg.

The development proposal that was submitted by Fritz included:

  The construction of a 4,500 foot coral surface airfield.

  Construction of a jetty for Five Cays which was eventually relocated to South Dock to facilitate the docking of larger vessels.

  Road development linking all three settlements (Blue Hills, Five Cays and The Bight).

  Dredging Sellars Pond and making a channel from the ocean to the pond so that it would be used as a harbour.

  Building of a hotel with at least 10 rooms.

  Employment of a certain number of Turks & Caicos Islanders.

  Requisition of 4,000 acres of Crown Land for development.

Fritz’s request for 4,000 acres of land from the Turks & Caicos government on a lease basis was not readily accepted by the government or the populace as many  argued at the time that it was a mistake to give so many acres of land to a foreign developer. Hon. Lightbourne, on the other hand, saw it as the only way forward for Providenciales. The project eventually got the blessings of the government.

Following approval by the local Legislature, Fritz and his partners  set to work. It was necessary to import heavy duty equipment and other supplies. The heavy equipment included bulldozers, tractors, graders and trucks, which were sourced in the USA, while other supplies including canned food items and fuel were sourced from the neigbouring Dominican Republic. The first challenge was to clear customs in South Caicos before having their boat  guided by the late “Gus” Lightbourne and Charlie Rigby to Providenciales—a pivotal task!.

Scenic Turtle Cove was the area selected by Fritz to construct his hotel. He aptly named it “Third Turtle Inn” following the sequence from The Bahamas. During development of the hotels in The Bahamas, Fritz had established a link with a real estate developer in Florida. He used this individual to promote his project in Providenciales. Fritz divided his 4,000 acres of land into residential and commercial properties.

His first marketing approach was to advertise for pilots who would fly down to the island in their private aircraft. He was also able to attract a number of investors in the project. These included:  Mrs. Julia Barber, Tommy Coleman, Richard C. Dupont Jr., Rogers C.B. Morton, Teddy Roosevelt lll, Peter Thompson, Richard S. Dupont, and Bengt Soderqvist. One of the team’s first tasks was to push a road from Heaving Down Rock to Turtle Cove. The heavy equipment that was imported was utilized for this mammoth undertaking. Bengt’s role was also to survey the land and properties.

This group soon became known as the Seven Dwarfs.  Fritz’s real estate development program attracted investment potential from people such as:  Frank Fairchild, Doc Withey, Ed Erickson, Robert Guise, Eddie Erickson, Ray Hall and Ward Thompson. Ray ended up building the Erebus Inn which was an extension of Fritz’s Third Turtle Inn.  Ward Thompson bought land and later developed what is still known as Thompson Cove.

This is the original “airport” in Providenciales in the early 1970s.

These investors eventually formed a partnership known as Provident Limited. Each partner was granted 20 acres of land. Since there was no public electricity supply at the time, each resident purchased personal generators. Since so many of the white residents had purchased generators, they eventually decided that it would be more appropriate to have a central generator that would provide electricity to the group. This led to the formation of the Provo Power Corporation (Provo Corp). Each individual connected to the grid paid monthly electricity bills.This eventually lead to the electrification of Providenciales. The late Scott Perkins was put in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the generator and electrical supplies while Doc Withey was responsible for the management of the operation.

Traveling to Providenciales was another challenge as there was no major airport nor international flights. In order to assist his guests and other potential investors to get into Provo, Fritz promoted shuttle flights from Florida twice weekly using a World War ll DC-3 aircraft. In 1967, Lew Whinnery started an inter-island air service. Fritz, along with Owen Cassaway, eventually bought out the company establishing Caicos Airways Limited. By 1968, they were using the Beechcraft  Bonanza which they replaced  a year later with a Twin Beech, eight-seater aircraft. They also maintained a Cessna for charter flights.

As more persons expressed interest in residing and investing in Providenciales, a greater demand was placed on the Provo Corp to provide services. In the words of Bengt Soderqvist, the Corp grew like a web. Eventually, because of the huge demand, it became almost impossible for the Corp to manage the supply and demand that was being created. As a result, they eventually agreed to sell the Corp to the owners of Provo Power Company in the 1980s.  

Fritz can be credited for being one of the major pioneers that ignited this remarkable change in Providenciales in just over fifty years. He not only set the stage for our tourism development, but he also contributed to the development of the electrification of Providenciales. This was not by any stretch of the imagination a simple task. This initiative was indicative of a man who possessed drive, enthusiasm, determination and fortitude. It is obvious that Fritz’s vision is alive and well in the TCI. He was a trailblazer.

It is sad and unfortunate that he has not been given the respect or the acknowledgement for his tireless efforts. The PDM administration (1976–80), saw it fitting to name the airport in his honour.

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