Recently had my article about the ‘Chamberlain House’ on Green Turtle Cay published in Abaco Life – a local tri-yearly, glossy magazine that gives more depth to the area where I grew up in the Bahamas. Below are some additional photographs that I took to accompany the piece:
This decrepit home is said to have been built around 1860, shortly after the New Plymouth Inn Hotel nearby and is now one of the oldest homes on the cay. Its history links closely with rumours depicting it as a temporary base for a young Neville Chamberlain and the long-term, family home of Dr. Walter Kendrick. Mrs. Evelyn, Kendrick’s daughter who later had four daughters (some of whom still on the island today) is the last known person to have lived in the treehouse-like structure.
The home was bought by Dr. Walter Kendrick in 1929 after the deed had been passed to Augustus Roberts (a mariner of Green Turtle Cay, who is believed to have been the person who built the New Plymouth Inn in 1850) from the Bahamas Inagua Sisal Plantation. Booming industries like sisal were just a small attribute to the atmosphere of the small island which made it so unlike what you see today. With a population once boasting 1,600, many saw Green Turtle Cay as the hub of activity and would travel in sailboats from the mainland to attractions like the Cay’s cinema.
The two-story structure is now owned by a retired architect who lives in a newer build opposite. She’d said in her interview with me that she was hoping to ‘gently restore it’ but that after x number of hurricanes, it would be a hard task. Plus, as many older Abaconians will point out, they just don’t make the building materials like they use to. Built predominantly with Abaco pine (a very hardy local wood less prone to termites) and on a coral base, it is most definitely a local home, one that would be a shame to lose. This is for the most part why Sybil Smith decided to step in.
Not wanting to see it ‘turned into a block of ugly apartments’ because of its prime location in the centre of town, she’s also added a wooden fence around it to try to preserve its original appearance. What is also made the ‘gentle’ restoration process worthwhile are the little treasures that have been uncovered like this tiny horseshoe hung on the outside of the lower floor.
The inner shell of the home, which merely echoes its stories, was carved out of local coral (or possibly even out of the island itself) which aids in its longevity. Blocks of wood which originally provided support for the building can be picked up off of the dirt basement floor and you can still smell that distinctive pine smell even now, 150 years later. In a means to keep it from collapsing Sybil has used a lot of the materials that were capsuled such as the downstairs’ wooden floor which was elevated off of the ground on top of pieces of brain coral to prevent rotting. There is an admirable amount of craftsmanship that went into the construction of houses like this one. Bit by bit, Sybil has been adding back to the property (taking inspiration from Alton Lowe’s original painting of the home as featured on the cover of Abaco Life) such as the picket fence.
The fence has also prevented kids from getting hurt climbing on the decaying structure. However, her playful siamese cat is happily allowed to make the historic grounds its playground among ancient trees and lush fauna.
Sybil is still uncovering more pieces of history, most of which she’s given to the Albert Lowe Museum on the island. Bits of broken pottery found in an open water tank at the back of the house are laid out in the sun.
In 1932, the medical missionary, Dr. Kendrick, came to live on Green Turtle Cay having bought the house a few years prior and built the Green Turtle Cay Gospel Chapel opposite. 1932 was also the year of the Great Hurricane which destroyed the island to a great extent. Many of its industries were ruined and its inhabitants who had lost their homes (some of whom had lost loved ones) relocated to other islands.
It was Dr. Kendrick who transformed this same home into a makeshift clinic which even housed a working generator. Many sought the shelter and the medical help from the doctor who later became best known for his breakthroughs with curing skin cancer through the use of local plants. The word ‘Clinic Office’ can still be seen handwritten in red on the outside of the main entrance door, protected by vines.
Sybil has also considered replicating and replacing the original structure with more modern materials and hardy plank. The parts that are standing and the interior wood of Abaco Pine is possibly the reason (aided with the architectural design) why this home, and so many others on the cay have survived so many hurricanes and able to tell so many tales.
If you enjoyed this piece and would like to find out more facts about the home and Abaco itself, please make sure to look for the actual article in the most recent issue of Abaco Life. All photographs are copyright of Kelsi Farrington 2015 unless otherwise stated. All photographs were taken with a Canon 450D.