Remember When?

The Early Years

Sapodilla Bay/Taylor Bay/Chalk Sound development.

Story & Historical Photos By James (Jim) Brown

I am from Canada where it is COLD during the winters, so in 1974 there was a very popular movement to align with or even have the Turks & Caicos Islands join Canada. It was an idea that appealed to everyone in Canada and was a nightly news story on TV and in newspapers!

I was curious and visited South Caicos, where the flight from Miami landed at the time, and then went on to the capital Grand Turk to see what it was all about. At the time I was a developer/builder so a project in warmer climes could be of interest. During that visit I met up with government officials, planners, and a local landowner from Middle Caicos. I purchased my first property in Belle Sound on South Caicos and came away with an idea to build a dive resort on Middle Caicos. On my next visit I had my architect along. We presented and had approved by the United Nations planner responsible for the TCI, a plan for 800 acres on Middle Caicos to be named “King Conch’s Place.” Over the next two years our lawyer Finbar Dempsey in Grand Turk tried his best but because of legal titles and family land, the title could not be transferred so the project didn’t happen. 

The newly constituted TCI Government of 1976 was on a mission to attract developer/investors. I was invited to return because of the serious intentions and proper planning I had demonstrated in Middle Caicos to participate. Liam McGuire as the development minister offered my group five acres on Grace Bay if we would build a 25-room hotel. In 1978 I returned with some potential investors and had a closer look. Providenciales was empty­—there were only a few tourist homes and a marina. There were 17 cars and 950 people there at this time. Two small inns around Turtle Cove, the Third Turtle and Erebus, were the only accommodation. A small dirt strip served as the airport and a dock out the southwest side at Gussy Cove was all the infrastructure. There was a group of homeowners clustered around Turtle Cove and Thompson Cove that supported an electric generator for their power—PPC (Provo Power Co-op). Islanders lived in three villages—Blue Hills, Five Cays, and The Bight. Water was collected from roofs draining into concrete tanks called cisterns. Food was collected from the sea and by trading with other islands like North Caicos and Haiti.

This was the road from South Dock into town on Providenciales in the early 1970s.

Grace Bay was amazing in such a pristine state but I was not a hotel builder/operator so the idea was not something I felt confident about. After all, there were not really any tourists about and no proper airport. Fortunately, a local taxi driver, Hearts Capron, took us on an island tour. One stop was at Sapodilla Beach where local fishermen landed their boats. Looking around this area I felt much more confident that this is where I could do a development in scale with my experience. At this time in history there was a simple dirt track to Sapodilla Bay and the adjacent Gussy Cove Harbour. There were no power or phone lines and just empty vacant land as far as you could see.

However, Sapodilla Bay was attractive to passing boaters as it was a calm anchorage. In fact there were signs of such visits over some 200+ years! The rock carvings on top of Sapodilla Hill were probably from sailors stranded due to shipwreck or passing time as the sailing ships were keeled over for bottom cleaning and repairs. There were some plantations on Providenciales from the late 1700s which required provisions. Sapodilla Bay was where the boats came in and long boats were used to row around the coast to the island’s backside, as did the marauding pirates who visited on occasion. For example, at the Cheshire Hall Plantation in central Providenciales there are cannon placements facing the shallow waters of the Caicos Banks. Boats could not get in on the north shore along Grace Bay because of the reef protection along the north side. 

The local people were anxious to see investment and hoped they could be part of future development. The fact is, to do development on this scale requires some serious money and contacts to make it happen. This is a problem anywhere when things are starting up. At the time, Islanders just didn’t have the contacts or the funds to develop the country on their own.

My group formed a company called Condor Real Estate Ltd. and as president, I was now set to negotiate with government the purchase of 100 acres from “Gussy Cove” (now called South Dock) to halfway down Taylor Bay along the peninsula, with waterfront on both sides. If I could reach a workable agreement with the government ministers, then I could pursue investment partners.  

Much has changed over the last 60 years. This is the Sapodilla Beach Jim Brown encountered in the 1970s.

It took several months of meetings and working with my planners to create a master plan that was acceptable to all parties. In the end the TCI Government wanted to encourage tourism, so required us to build a 25-room hotel at Sapodilla Point plus bring electricity from town, lay a road through to Taylor Bay, and survey the proposed subdivision. For doing this in a timely manner Condor was granted the right to lease/purchase 100 acres.

It was a struggle right to the last minute! After weeks of fruitless meetings, several ministers finally met with me in Chief Minister Jags McCartney’s office to review all the conditions. I told them I was leaving on the afternoon flight and I had to have an agreement or there was no point in my coming back. Finally, we all signed “The Heads Of Agreement” document. Ahh! But wait— the governor had to sign too! Off to his home and office at Waterloo House to see Governor Strong with documents in hand. He called me into his office and explained he needed to read these before signing, although I pointed out that the afternoon flight was at the airport preparing to leave. So I left his office with nothing. I was sitting on the plane and the stair was pulled back when a car drove up beside the plane. They put the stairs back. The governor walked down the aisle of the plane and handed me the signed documents. We were in business finally!

One investor we brought in was Armin Theil who was interested in the hotel operation. Over a three year period, he built the 25-room Mariner Hotel. After several hurricanes, the ruins can still be found on Sapodilla Point above South Dock. Armin was also a baker and started the first commercial bakery at the hotel—Sunshine Bakery. 

This aerial view shows Sapodilla Beach as the area looks today.

It was very difficult to build in the Islands in those days. There was no ready-mix concrete so Armin had an older lady in Five Cays prepare gravel rock by breaking larger rocks with her hammer. Whenever she had two or three barrels full, Armin would pick them up and bring them to the site. Water came from an old deserted home cistern behind the dock area where it was dipped by throwing a pail tied to a rope down into the cistern a certain way and filling barrels on his truck. Sand came from local beaches after it had been “rain washed” to clean out the salt. Once enough material was collected—maybe every two weeks—there would be a concrete pour. Mixing the cement, rock, sand, and water in a gas powered mixer on a good day might produce five yards. Nowadays a concrete truck delivers twice that every hour! Further, there were no concrete pumps so all concrete was moved around with a wheelbarrow; second floors required buckets carried up ladders. It was a long, tedious job but that was the only way it could be done here then. There were several local men like Bill Parker who were exceptional carpenters and masons who helped make this happen. 

During construction Armin lived in an old house out by the dock that had no power or water. On occasion I stayed with him. We had two forks and shared one knife. He cooked on a small gas burner his famous “chicken in a pail.” In the morning this was a frozen chicken, a handful of carrots and potatoes, and water boiled for a few hours in a pail! It worked well as long as Armin didn’t forget to remove the plastic wrap on the chicken first! The fridge was electric run by a generator we shut off at nights to sleep, and started up again in the morning. The generator shut off midday when it ran out of gas but kept us in cold beer.  

During a visit back to Canada Armin had his first guests. The hotel was a shell with a roof but no windows or doors. Somehow a planned invasion of Cuba went wrong and 40 armed Cubans crashed onto the shores of Providenciales. The government, not having facilities, decided to house them at the Mariner Hotel. They couldn’t do much damage—a few cooking fires in the rooms was about it. They left many used life jackets as payment.

Over the early years of the 1980s, sales of building lots happened. This was helped along by the announcement that the British Government and Club Med had reached an agreement whereby the Brits would build an international airport and Club Med a hotel. At the time Club Med was the 11th largest hotel operator in the world. British construction firm Johnson International started on the airport and a year later the hotel. It was amazing they pulled this all off considering that everything had to be brought in by boats, even crushed rock from Scotland, concrete plants, heavy equipment, and skilled workers needing housing. 

Provident Ltd. was the big developer on Providenciales with a land grant of 4,000 acres back in 1966. During my time the head man was Dick DuPont and he was key along with others in getting Club Med interested. Provident sold them some 35 acres of prime oceanfront on Grace Bay for probably a good price. It was the catalyst that got this island moving. With an airport, the future was looking very positive.

Provident had a vision that Providenciales would be a hideaway for the rich and famous where whatever happened here stayed here! The Third Turtle Hotel was just a dozen rooms, but some wild times took place. Dick DuPont and several of his employees and partners had myself and my planners in for a meeting one day. Their vision was stressed and we were expected to get on-board with it. High-end tourism, no gambling or casinos, simple low-rise developments, and slowly this place took off in that direction. The bar area at the Third Turtle was decorated with neck ties cut from the throats of overdressed visitors! 

It wasn’t hard to keep what happened here private. It was decades before Internet and to make a simple phone call was quite time consuming. For example, I would go to the Third Turtle and they had a phone—one of three on island. One would phone the Cable and Wireless office in Grand Turk to book a call out. Then go to the bar and after several drinks, you might get a call back and connect to your party. I think after the drinks everyone assumed we were all a bunch of island misfits. However, good times were had by all in the “good old days.” 

The beach at Sapodilla Bay was pristine and untouched in the 1980s.

Out at Sapodilla Bay we were selling large building lots about one acre in size. Several homes were built along the coast towards Taylor Bay. An island enthusiast by the name of Henry Moog from Atlanta became our biggest fan. He bought many parcels and started building what he called “Georgia Swamp homes” along Chalk Sound, then Ocean Point. These were large wooden homes all coloured grey with large post-and-beam treatments. Two local contractors, Princy Harris and Willard Williams, were kept busy for many years. The homes, in both location and style, were a big hit and over the next 10 years Henry sold out all he could build.

In the mid-1990s, styles changed and concrete homes were required under the new hurricane building code. You can see the difference in the Sunset Bay subdivision compared to the older homes along Ocean Point Drive. By 2000, Condor had sold out and ceased operations. Now, re-development is happening and some of the older homes are finding new life or are being replaced as the Sapodilla Bay area is without doubt among the very best locations for a home on Providenciales.

It was an amazing experience to be—along with many local and international believers—part of nurturing this country and Providenciales in particular, from a small and quiet pristine group of Islands to what you see today! At the beginning:  No roads, no airport, no dock, no electricity, so no TV or refrigerators, but the ever-present beautiful sun, sea, and sand. This “Beautiful by Nature” attraction and the foresight and effort of many created this paradise that is enjoyed by so many today.

 



1 Comment

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David McCallister
Apr 9, 2024 9:32

I had the joy and opportunity to move to Provo in early Jan, 2006 and to be involved in the construction of The Italian Village, Veranda, and the fiasco on Dellis Cay.

I knew Marsha Pardee, Marine Biologist, from the early 80’s in the states, who moved here in mid 80’s.
Marsha introduced me into a wonderful Family of Friends including Jim Brown, Pam Leach, Ken Brown, Mike and Kathy Barrington, Richard Green, Bob and Janet, Leslie Williams, Chloe and Alizee Zimmermann, and others. These early travelers and visionaries saw and experienced the wonderful Beauty by Nature of these islands in Paradise.
The hard work investments and perseverance of so many locals, expats and other islands workers helped create a special haven for our spirits and hearts, here in the Turks and Caicos.

My true pleasure at knowing Jim Brown as a sharer of wisdom and humor is continually a blessing in my life.

In reading Jim’s history of foresight, beginning with a vision, involving others, bringing investments, “chicken in a pail”, an old woman in 5 Cays breaking rocks with a hammer for concrete gravel, and his being instrumental in the development of Provo, is a truly astonishing legacy of my friend, Jim Brown.
It’s an honor having him in my life.
David McCallister

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