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VINTAGE HOTEL BECOMES HISTORICAL SITE

Vintage-HotelAs Peace and Plenty celebrates its 50th anniversary, the resort earns its prestigious listing on the antiquities registry. The 32-room colonial style resort in Exuma was awarded the rare Historical Site antiquity plaque for withstanding the test of time in the Caribbean.  The hotel located in the southeastern Bahamas at George Town, was built by Lawrence Lewis of Richmond, Virginia. He was heir to the Henry Flagler railroad fortune. The hotel started out as a private fishing club for his guests after purchasing the main building from a local family.

Folk history suggests that when hand-cut, lime rock blocks were discovered as part of the walls, the main lobby and kitchen was thought to be the site of  Bowe’s Tavern, a watering hole and the site for occasional slave auctions. The building later became a sponge warehouse, country store and home to the Minns family. The separate standing cookhouse now serves as the Club’s main bar called the ‘Slave Kitchen’ Bar.

During the early stages of the Loyalist Years, from1783 to 1834 when the slaves were emancipated, the southern plantation owners loyal to the British in the Revolutionary War, were deemed persona non-grata in the newly formed United States. Their plight was eased when the English Crown awarded vast tracks of land on the newly acquired Bahama Islands of Exuma, Cat and Long Island, sometimes called the cotton islands. The trading ship, Peace and Plenty, brought Lord Denys Rolle’s  entourage and other supplicants to Exuma,  landing at welcoming Bowe’s Tavern on Elizabeth Harbor (now home to the annual National Family Island Regatta), to began their new lives.

The virgin hardwood forests were cleared, using some to construct modest plantation houses and the rest shipped to the budding capitol city of Nassau, some 150 miles to the northwest, through the island pearls of the Exuma Cays. Handbills advertising Exuma timber for sale are still on view at the library in Nassau.

The 1926 hurricane razed most of the remaining original plantation houses on Little and Great Exuma. The only remaining plantation house is located near Williamstown, Little Exuma, and although in a deteriorating condition, is worth a visit to walk thru a slice of out island history. As the cotton came into production, the present site of Club Peace and Plenty became a bee hive of activity, offering easy Elizabeth Harbor access to the ships from England, offloading merchandise and supplies and returning laden with fine cotton for the mills of Manchester.

George Town, the provincial capitol of the Exumas was incorporated in 1793 and probably boasted more local citizens than today. The cotton industry was booming but there was trouble was looming. After some 15 good years, the cotton production started to decrease due primarily to the thin depth of the soil and no understanding of soil management. To add to production woes,  England, in 1804,  prohibited no new importation of slaves into any of its colony’s , effectively cutting off repletion of the labor supply. The downward spiral of Exuma had taken hold and with the advent of the Chenille bug, which turned the cotton balls red, the industry was in serious trouble.

The knockout blow came in 1834, when England emancipated all the slaves, with special provision in Exuma to phase out the indenture until 1838. At that time, the former slaves ceased to cultivate what was left of the cotton industry, and took up other subsistence pursuits, thus closing this chapter of history in the islands. Soon the only ‘cash’ crop was some salt raking in various ponds, selling bags to passing sailing ships for food preservation. A ionic stone column was erected in raking locations to signal passing potential customers, aided by a signal cannon, such as the one near Williamstown.

With the collapse of cotton and no viable replacement, plantation owners and overseers left the island for more promising environs, such as a bustling Nassau to the north. Attempts to sell the fallow land were unsuccessful and most of the properties were abandoned, and deemed to be worthless. Groups of former slaves, having no means to leave the islands squatted on the extensive acreage and hold it to this day as ‘Generation’ land, controlled by committee,  paying no tax and not available for sale.

In the 1950’s tourism was discovered and a revitalized Exuma, offering pristine water, fabulous white sand beaches, temperate Tropic of Cancer weather, world class fishing, a stable government and a friendly local population, helped bring prosperity back to the islands. Today, this resort stands as a reminder to the hospitality stakeholders that hotels can be better than vintage wine - the older they get, the more competitive the price they run for unique offers.

 
 
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