Peaceful sunset over the Abaco mainland – Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas.
Bridal bouquet (aka Plumeria Pudica) flowers, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Orange hibiscus, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas.
Family fun at Gillam Bay, Green Turtle Cay.
Built during the mid- to late-1800s on the property east of where the town administration buildings stand today, Green Turtle Cay’s Methodist Church could seat 1,200 people. The structure was one of many destroyed during the hurricane of 1932.
UPDATE: Thank you, eagle-eyed readers! Though it looks similar, I believe the building in this image is actually the New Plymouth Inn, post 1932 hurricane and prior to its conversion from private home to a hotel.
Though there exist a number of first-hand accounts of the destruction wrought by the 1932 hurricane, there truly is nothing like a photograph to convey the full magnitude of the devastation. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to receive a group of never-before-published photos, taken on Green Turtle Cay in the days following the storm.
The images are from the collection of Jack Mertland Malone from Hope Town and later, Nassau. I’ve included his original notes in quotation marks beneath each image.
Many thanks to Mr. Malone’s granddaughter, Marysa Malone, and Wayne Neely, Bahamian meteorologist and author of The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, for sharing these rare photographs.
Marysa’s grandfather, Jack Mertland Malone, is pictured in a few of these images, but I’d love to be able to identify the other people shown. If you know who they are, or recognize any of the houses or locations, please let me know.
Though all these images are amazing, I think the two below are perhaps the most touching. The first, because it reflects the helplessness I imagine all New Plymouth residents must have felt. These girls know that their father lies beneath the rubble of their home, but there’s little they can do to help him.
Unlike many of the other images, there’s a hint of hope in the photo below. These children, though no doubt traumatized, survived the storm. Their home appears to be relatively intact. They’re clean and neatly dressed, and perhaps on the way to regaining some degree of normality.
If you’re at all interested in Abaco or Bahamian history, you should check out my cousin Evan Lowe’s blog, Out Island Boy. Evan is the grandson of Bessie Curry Lowe, sister to my great-grandfather, Herman Curry. We connected online several years back and since then, we’ve shared the fun (and, occasionally, the frustration…) of tracing our common island roots.
In his latest blog post, School Days, Evan writes about Green Turtle Cay’s tiny Amy Roberts Primary School (originally known as the All Age School.) He draws on accounts from his late father’s journals, as well as interviews with Bahamians who either attended the school or who knew its earliest teachers and schoolmasters.
My own grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury (1919-2010), attended the All Age School from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. That’s her, second from left in the back row of the above photo. Her teacher, Amy Roberts, for whom the school would later be renamed, is at the far right of the picture.
“Before 1932,” my grandmother told me, “we had a big school. There was an upstairs and it had porches. We did regular school work and singing and prayers. And Amy Roberts would teach crochet work and sewing to the older girls.”
Bahamian artist and historian (and my cousin) Alton Lowe, says the original All Age School was in fact very large, able to accommodate up to 400 students. Plays were often staged at the school, he says, for the enjoyment of the entire settlement.
But on September 5, 1932 — what was to be the first day of school after summer vacation — a category 5 hurricane took direct aim at Green Turtle Cay. During the storm, which battered the cay for three long days, people with houses on low-lying land took refuge on the school steps when their homes flooded.
“They said they could feel those steps shaking,” my grandmother told me. “Later on, people whose houses had been destroyed tried to get up to the schoolhouse for shelter,” she said. “But the school was gone.”
Sadly, when the hurricane moved on, all that remained of the big, beautiful All Age School was its Abaco pine floor.
With lumber and building materials difficult to come by, and with the local population dwindling as families moved away in search of work, the people of New Plymouth built a smaller, more modest school — the building we see today.
To learn more about the early years of the Amy Roberts Primary School, see Evan’s terrific blog post.
Our little house by the ferry has come a long way since the move, and my favourite part of the journey thus far is our new covered porch.
Truth be told, Tom and I wrestled with the decision to add a porch. Throughout the restoration process, we’ve tried not to alter Pa Herman’s original structure any more than necessary. And a porch is a substantial change.
Eventually though, we concluded that Pa Herman and Ma May would approve. After all, their original, pre-1932 house had quite a similar porch. And, had they not been constrained by limited time and resources after the 1932 hurricane, we feel certain they’d have added one to Fish Hooks as well.
Originally, our plans called for a six-foot porch. But once the house was moved and we realized how spacious our new front yard was, we splurged and added two more feet.
Given the sentimental value of Pa Herman’s old cellar, we’re preserving the deepest part of it beneath the new porch. Ultimately, we’ll enclose it in privacy lattice and perhaps use it for storage.
In my (admittedly biased) opinion, Oral and Jason have built us the most beautiful porch in town. It’s a lovely space to read, write, visit with friends or just enjoy a delightful sea breeze. Practically speaking, it keeps the house cooler and increases our living area. Aesthetically, it changes the entire look of Fish Hooks, making the cottage seem larger and more welcoming.
Even more wonderful than the view of the porch, however, is the view from the porch. We now have a front-row seat from which to watch each morning’s vivid sunrise and the daily comings and goings of New Plymouth.
Being able to chat with passersby has helped us get to know our neighbours and feel more involved with the community. And we’ve even had the pleasure of meeting a few Little House by the Ferry readers who dropped by to say hello.
Though we didn’t know it then, this project would be our last opportunity to work with Oral. Not long after the porch was completed, he and his family received some difficult news.
The cancer he’d bravely battled for the past several years had spread and was not responding to treatment. He lost weight and tired easily. And while you’d never know it from his quiet demeanor, his pain level was increasing.
Sadly, on July 13, Oral passed away. Tom and I will miss him greatly, both personally and as we continue our restoration journey. But he’ll forever be a part of Fish Hooks. And with every delicate breeze or magnificent sunrise we enjoy from our porch, we’ll remember his gentle smile and gracious spirit.
This Sunday, Green Turtle Cay will bid farewell to its oldest and perhaps best-loved resident, Mr. Floyd Lowe.
Known to locals — related or not — as “Papa,” Mr. Floyd was a childhood friend and distant cousin of my grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury. “Me, my wife Zeddith and Lurey were one year’s children,” he told me. “Born in 1919.”
They attended school together, he said. Shot marbles together at recess. And though they couldn’t know it then, together they would endure the 1932 hurricane, the Great Depression and more hardship and sorrow than most of us will ever know.
Sadly, we lost my grandmother Lurey on March 1, 2010. Two months later, Mrs. Zeddith passed away. And on July 29, 2014, after a brief illness, the last of that year’s children left us.
Though Mr. Floyd was perhaps best known as owner of the Green Turtle Ferry service, his business interests over the years were many. He created countless opportunities for his fellow Abaconians and helped individuals and groups in need without want of recognition.
His business acumen and commitment to community garnered Mr. Floyd many honours, including a Silver Jubilee Award for National Development and a Cacique Award from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. In 1999, he was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE).
If you asked him, though, his greatest achievement and source of pride was his family. And, having gotten to know some of his family members in recent years, it’s evident that his pride was well-founded. Like him, they are gracious, kind, hard-working and community-minded. Seeing Mr. Floyd with his children, grandchildren and great-grands, it was clear how deeply he loved them and how much he was adored in return.
There was a purity and authenticity about Mr. Floyd. He lived the tenets of his faith in a way few do, and walked the walk every day with dignity, humour and generosity of spirit.
Time spent in his company was a gift. He would review old photos with me, helping to identify the people in them. He told me stories about my great-grandparents, Pa Herman and Ma May, and about my grandmother and their school days together. Once, in a conspiratorial tone, he whispered, “Lurey had a crush on me, you know.”
Occasionally, as he spun tales, I suspected he might be pulling my leg. He would just laugh and shrug. “Who can argue with me?” he’d ask. “I’m the oldest person on the island.”
When I learned Mr. Floyd had written a book about his life, I asked where I could buy one. “Come by the office,” he said. “I’ve got some there.” When I arrived, he not only had a book waiting for me, but one each for my Mom and her three siblings. He thought it might offer them insight into the early life of their own mother, Lurey. And he wouldn’t take a penny for any of them.
Most afternoons, the men of New Plymouth gather at the steps of the John Lowe Center. A few months back, I asked Mr. Floyd just what was discussed at these “four o’clock men’s meetings.” “These days?” he said, “mostly politics.” He grinned. “But women are always a close second.”
He may have been 94 years old, but Mr. Floyd was forever a young man at heart. Earlier this year, I reached out to help him down his office steps. He glanced around, blue eyes sparkling, and said, “I hope your husband doesn’t catch us holding hands!”
To Mr. Floyd’s family, Tom and I send our love and deepest condolences. His was truly a life well-lived and we hope you find comfort in the thought that he is now reunited with his beloved Zeddith and in the company of the heavenly father he so faithfully served.
As for us, we are comforted knowing that your Papa’s grace, compassion and community spirit live on through each of you. There is no greater legacy he could leave Green Turtle Cay.
A home-going service for Mr. Floyd Lowe will be held at 1pm this Sunday, August 10th at the New Plymouth Gospel Chapel in Green Turtle Cay. To enable his family members to attend, ferry service will be suspended during the funeral. The last ferry prior to the service will depart Green Turtle Cay at 11:45 am and return from the mainland at 12pm. Ferry service will resume at 4pm from Green Turtle Cay and 4:30 from the mainland.
Of all the Bahamian artisans I met at this year’s Island Roots festival, one of my favourites was Rose McKenzie.
Rose told me that, as young girls in Exuma, she and her sister, Neuiza Rolle, learned traditional straw work from their mother. The hats and baskets they produced provided vital funds for their family during difficult economic times.
My grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury, told a similar tale.
Early in the 20th century, Green Turtle Cay’s economy suffered several devastating blows. Its lucrative pineapple industry dried up when Cuba began exporting the fruit, and the U.S. annexed Hawaii, creating its own domestic supply. A burgeoning sponge industry was wiped out when disease killed off the local sponge beds. And in 1932, much of the settlement of New Plymouth was destroyed by a category 5 hurricane.
Devastated and deep in poverty, the residents of Green Turtle Cay cobbled together livings as best they could. For my great-grandfather, Pa Herman, this meant fishing and small-scale farming. My great-grandmother, Ma May, sewed straw hats.
Below, my grandmother describes how she harvested palm fronds and processed them to make plait – rolls of woven or braided straw from which hats and other handicrafts are created.
“Mama would sew the straw hats, but I would make the plait. I used to go down to the Long Beach. There used to be coconut trees there. And there were plenty of thatch-top trees over at Black Sound.
We used to get the young palm tops – cut them out of the head of the tree. We would cut those tops open and put them in the rock oven, let them get kind of crisp. If we didn’t have rain, we’d put them in the sea to bleach. Then, we would strip the palm tops with a needle or pin to make the strands to plait.
Sometimes I’d mix white-top palm and coconut leaves together. Other times, I’d plait all coconut leaves, or make lace plait. Uncle Ludd would take the plait that I made and sell it up around the islands. He would bring me the money.
We used to send bundles of palm tops to a lady on Guana Cay, and she would send some to another lady on Man-O-War. They would make plait, keep a little for themselves and send the rest back to us.
Miss Leela, a Man-O-War woman, had a store down on Market Street in Nassau, where she sold dress material and different things. She used to sell the hats Mama made, but she didn’t send the money. She would send us material and other things we needed from the shop.
When the mailboat would come, people were always sending plait to Mama, asking, ‘Miss May, can you sew this hat for me?’
I remember when Sister Hughes and her husband came to Green Turtle Cay. Mama sewed Mrs. Hughes a hat. The plait was open and lacy, and I made roses out of crepe paper and put around the edge. Sister Hughes used to go to go to church in it.
I had one, too. I made the edging plait out of navy blue crepe paper and Mama sewed the hat. I made white paper roses, and put them right around the front. Mama put wire under the brim. You wouldn’t know that hat wasn’t bought in a shop!”
For many visitors to the Bahamas, straw bags and hats are little more than cheerful souvenirs. But for Rose, my grandmother and other Bahamians, this traditional handicraft generated much-needed income for their households during times of desperation and want.
During my last visit to Green Turtle Cay, I had a long chat with Bahamian artist Alton Lowe about the Albert Lowe Museum — specifically, the structure in which it’s housed. Turns out that the museum building’s history is as fascinating as the artifacts displayed inside.
Built in 1825 by the Roberts family (who owned a department store on the property where Sid’s Grocery is now located), this two-story Loyalist home features traditional gingerbread-trimmed porches, dormer windows and one of the only cellars on the cay.
As was common at the time, the house has a separate kitchen building (which remains fully functional), as well as a four-hole latrine. The latter was an indication of the family’s wealth, since it offered correctly sized holes for men, women and children.
During the 19th century, when wrecking was a mainstay of the local economy, goods salvaged from shipwrecks were stored in and sold from the house’s cellar (which now serves as the museum’s Wrecker’s Gallery.)
Later in the 19th century, future British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain lived here as a young man prior to purchasing his own home on the cay.
And in the early 20th century, when merchant ships sailed from New Plymouth to New York packed with pineapples and returned laden with dry goods and other supplies, the stars and stripes flew over the house’s porch as it served as residence and office for U.S. Consul, E. Willis Bethel.
When the 1932 hurricane demolished New Plymouth’s library, this house – one of just a handful of structures in the settlement to survive the storm – served as a library until a new one could be built.
Sadly, by the mid-1970s, the Roberts house had fallen into disrepair. It was being rented out as office space when Alton purchased the home and set about its restoration.
He scoured the Bahamas for architectural elements – like porch spindles from a historic home in Nassau – that were true to the house’s vintage, as well as historically accurate reproduction pieces – such as gingerbread trim, hand-made by his brother, Leonard Lowe.
A year later, before Bahamian, American and British dignitaries and hundreds of onlookers, Alton opened the Albert Lowe Museum — the first museum in the Bahamas.
Named in honour of Alton’s father, a well-known model ship maker, the museum’s mission was to preserve Bahamian and Abaconian history and serve as an educational tool for young Bahamians.
Today, the museum showcases three centuries’ worth of paintings, sculptures, writings, models, photographs and other artifacts documenting the lives of the Lucayan Indians who first inhabited these islands, and the Loyalists and their slaves who settled here after fleeing post-revolutionary America.
It’s a diverse and fascinating collection, housed in a building that’s played a key role in New Plymouth history for nearly 200 years.
There’s a lot of work being done underneath our little house by the ferry in preparation for the big move. Over the weekend, Tom explored the old cellar beneath Fish Hooks, and documented his discoveries for our restoration video diary.
Oral, Jason and Gavin are making terrific progress, and the house should be ready to move later this week or early next. We’ll post a move date as soon as it’s confirmed.
Related Posts: Fish Hooks Update – The Inspection, Attic Archaeology, And Then There Were These…, Fish Hooks Update, Fish Hooks Video Diary: A Solid Start, Fish Hooks Video Diary: Beam It Up, Fish Hooks Video Diary: Ready, Set…, Fish Hooks Video Diary: The Move.
My grandmother, Lurey Merlee Curry, was the oldest of Pa Herman and Ma May’s four daughters. She was born in Green Turtle Cay in 1919 and lived there until moving to Nassau at age 17.
Tomorrow (December 16) would have been her 94th birthday.
Even in her later years, my grandmother’s memories of Green Turtle Cay remained vivid. “I can remember more about what happened to me as a child than I can remember day-to-day,” she would say.
And so, whenever I visited, we’d sit together in her front porch and, over the creak-creak of her gliding rocker, she would tell me about life “over home.”
More often than not, her stories were about the adversities her family faced – the sudden death of her six-year-old younger sister, Mirabelle, the loss of their family home in the 1932 hurricane, the poverty they endured during the Great Depression. “They were hard times,” she would say. “But people were happier. We were happy.”
And indeed, despite their many hardships, the love between my grandmother and her family and the simple pleasures they derived from everyday life were always evident in her stories. In honour of her birthday, I wanted to share two of her many Green Turtle Cay memories.
The Cane Mill
“When we were children, there was a cane mill at The Bluff. On the days that Daddy went to The Bluff to cut canes, we wouldn’t go to school. We would go with him to make the syrup. The boat would be loaded down with sugar canes. They were so soft and had long joints. Children used to come to buy them.
You’d have to push the mill around and around. Someone had a horse that would pull the mill. Mama used to bake something for us to carry down there to eat. If she had coconut, she’d bake coconut bread.
We used to chew on the sugar cane and drink the cane juice, which made us crave something salty. So when we got home, we would fish on the rocks for those yellow grunts. Mama would cook sweet potatoes and stew the grunts for us under the wild dilly tree where she used to cook.”
The Watermelon Farm
“You know in Black Sound, where you go up in and meet mangroves? Daddy used to grow watermelons on the north side of that harbour.
He had two boats. One with a well, that he went fishing in, and another small one.
Just about every Saturday afternoon when watermelons were in season, when he got through cleaning out the boat with the well and he chopped up fat pine – that’s what we used to start a fire in the wood stove outside – he would say, “Lurey, you want to go over to Black Sound? Let us go see if any watermelons are ripe.”
We would go in the small boat and coming back, we would sail. Daddy would cut up a watermelon and I would sit up on the bow and dip it in the salt water and eat it.
Daddy sold the watermelons when he could, when anybody wanted one. Sometimes, the young boys would buy one and go out on the dock and cut it up.
When I came to Nassau, the Priscilla (the mail boat) used to run every two weeks from over home. Daddy would always save the best watermelon to send down here to me. Sometimes, though, the rats would eat them on the trip. So I told him, ‘Daddy, keep them and sell them.’”
Though we lost my grandmother almost four years ago, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and her stories of Green Turtle Cay. I hope she’d be happy to know that Tom and I are restoring the little house where she and her family shared so many sweet memories.
When the wind died down and the rain subsided, the residents of Green Turtle Cay were relieved that the worst was behind them.
But as they emerged from their battered, flooded shelters, they discovered what misery lay ahead.
Six of their own – George Lewis (85), Thomas Roberts (62), Alice Lowe (58), Insley Sawyer (5) and brothers, DeWees and Bert Lowe, (15 and 2, respectively) – had been fatally wounded. Countless others were injured.
Water from Settlement Creek had surged across the lowest part of town and out into the sea of Abaco, destroying the cemetery and unearthing corpses. (Even today, fragments of grave stones remain on the beach that borders the graveyard.)
This is the second post in a three-part series. Here’s part one: September 3, 1932: The Calm Before the Storm.
There had been talk on Green Turtle Cay about a hurricane, but the only forecasting tools at the time were barometers. And though they were falling, indicating the approach of inclement weather, there was no way to predict where or when the storm would hit, or how serious it might be.
Thick, black storm clouds gathered in the eastern sky on Sunday evening. On Monday, September 5, New Plymouth residents woke to pelting rain and howling winds that intensified throughout the morning.
By afternoon, according to Bahamian meteorologist Wayne Neely in The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, the first known and documented Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas was battering Green Turtle Cay.
Sustained winds reached 160 mph, with gusts as high as 200 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
For three days, the storm stalled over the cay, hurling boats and large chunks of debris around like toys. Houses flooded and were smashed. Some fell off their footings. Most collapsed all together.
Forced to abandon their disintegrating homes and peppered with sand, stones and stinging rain, families clung to each other to avoid blowing away as they crawled in search of shelter.
In the few structures that remained intact, the townspeople huddled together, singing hymns to comfort the children and to ward off panic as the settlement was demolished around them. There was no food, no light and but for the few who managed to reach the home of settlement doctor, Walter Kendrick, no aid for the wounded.
Below are two first-hand accounts of the ’32 hurricane – one from my grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and the other from her first-cousin, John Lowe.
It’s unclear whether New Plymouth’s Loyalist settlers had remarkable foresight or just good fortune. Either way, the tiny settlement was well-situated to capitalize on a series of economic opportunities and by the early 1900s, New Plymouth was a vibrant, prosperous town of 1,500 residents. On September 3, 1932, however, these residents had no inkling of the terror and misfortune lurking beyond the horizon.
In the mid-1800s, Green Turtle Cay’s proximity to major shipping lanes east of the Abaco barrier reef made it the wrecking capital of Abaco. At one point, says Steve Dodge in Abaco: The History of an Out Island and its Cays, more than twenty wrecking schooners and forty fishing vessels were based in New Plymouth.
When the U.S. Civil War stifled the trade that necessitated shipping, locals turned to cultivating and exporting pineapples which, by the late 1800s, were the mainstay of New Plymouth’s economy.
Unfortunately, the cay’s soil was soon exhausted, fruit often spoiled due to weather-related shipping delays, and U.S. pineapple imports diminished with that country’s acquisition of Hawaii. But the economic gap created by Green Turtle Cay’s waning pineapple industry was soon filled.