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East Caicos - History

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REYNOLDS’ RANCHES
Excerpt from Turks Islands Landfall
A History of the Turks & Caicos Islands by H.E. Sadler

On the north of East Caicos is Flamingo Hill with an elevation of 156 feet, while the dangerous Philips Reef guards the coast. It is advisable to have a local pilot navigate the difficult channels into the pleasant anchorage at Breezy Point, where the employees of the East Caicos Sisal Company lived in 1891 while working in the sisal industry. Stretching for some 20 miles from Drum Point to Flamingo Hill is also the lovely reef harbor of Jacksonville, which may some day prove to be a Mecca for American tourists. The island has extensive savannas on the north side, which are ideal for ranching, while near Lorimers Point is an area with flamingos, wild ducks and pigeons. There are many ponds and lakes on the island, and at White Top Pond grow the Palmetto thatch palms, which are still in great demand for making hats.

Before World War II, hunting parties went to East Caicos to shoot wild cattle. These animals were relics of a herd of over 1,500 developed by the late J.N. Reynolds, owner of the Breezy Point Estate, who used to supply all the meat required at Grand Turk. The meat from the cattle reared at Jacksonville was very lean and had a particular sweet taste, which was said to be occasioned by the salty diet on which the animals fed at East Caicos. Hides were also exported to Haiti. These animals have now been virtually exterminated by the local hunters.

Mr. Reynolds was born in Dublin, Ireland, and settled in Turks and Caicos Islands about 1856, where he became the leading salt business magnate of his time. In partnership with an American, he organized a schooner service to the port of New York, until the foreign steamship companies took over this operation. He controlled all of East Caicos and developed the export of guano manure from the port of Jacksonville, which he dredged to accommodate ships with a draft of up to sixteen feet. Here was ultimately a 100-yard long quay, fed by 14 miles of railroad lines along which the trolleys were drawn by mules, after being loaded with sisal in the interior plantations.

After the death of Mr. Reynolds in 1890, the East Caicos Sisal Company for the continued cultivation of sisal leased his property. Ships of the Clyde Steamship Company used to load sisal for New York at Jacksonville. Great expectations were then entertained that Jacksonville would become a leading port in the island and East Caicos Sisal Company even purchased a steam freighter of 1,594 tons called the Navahoe for use in their operations. It is unfortunate that the subsequent collapse of the sisal market led to the closing down of all commercial operations on this lovely island, which was left in ruination.

In the last century a fast schooner would leave Grand Turk at daybreak and be off Drum Point in East Caicos by early afternoon. Goodes Hill can be seen as soon as Grand Turk sinks below the horizon. On reaching Drum Point the scene changes. As far as the eye can see, there stretches a line of foaming reefs on the right hand and a limitless expanse of white sandy beach studded with thatch palms on the left.

The East Caicos Company leased plantations extending 15 miles from Lorimer’s Creek. Initial operations were under the direction of Mr. Jeremiah D. Murphy, who died shortly thereafter. At the end of the century Mr. F.A.Jones and his two brothers operated the plantations. Mr. F.A.Jones was in charge of the four Todd steam machines, which were imported for the efficient extraction of the fiber.

East Caicos also experienced an unsuccessful attempt at colonization in March 19940, when a party of 19 Americans arrived at the island on the yacht Spindrift from Miami, led by Mr. Lake, an in-law of the Reynolds family. These people had been recruited executive of the Standard Oil Company. Unfortunately, the scheme to build a new settlement was badly planned and these pioneers were soon reduced to privation and even to the eating of wild donkeys. They were repatriated shortly afterwards during the war years, partly at Government expense.

In 1968, there was another attempt to open up East Caicos when the Government to Mr. John Houseman and his associates. This English journalist took up residence on the island and one of the old Reynold’s plantation buildings was refurbished. Mr. Houseman and his family lived like "Robinson Crusoe" and received their supplies by airdrop from the local airline, as there was no road communication. Unfortunately, the development plans failed to materialize and the island was once again abandoned a few months thereafter.164

In 1970, it seemed that modern development was about to overtake East Caicos when a Bermuda partnership, called the Solar Group, obtained an option on 160 acres at Goodes Hill in return for certain infrastructure development. This scheme fell through, but the promoters personally acquired another 1,300 acres of private land known as Breezy Point in the north central section of the island.

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