The Government House, Salt Cay.
IF THESE OLD HALLS COULD TALK what would they say? I honestly believe the crumbling walls, ceilings, floorboards and rafters would ask successive governments “Why have you allowed me to deteriorate? Why has such a stately edifice like me, with so much history, so many stories to tell, been neglected over these past decades?
If these old halls could talk, they would bespeak happy times. They would relate stories of happy families, of children romping around the grounds, playing hopscotch, marbles, flying kites, and laboring over school assignments before retiring to bed at night.
This old house would introduce you to some fine, upstanding families who occupied its halls, and shaped the lives of their offspring, who now make their valuable contributions to our society.
This house, officially known as Government House (pronounced ‘gobment’ house in Salt Cay vernacular) or The Residence, and sometimes referred to as ‘The Hill’, was the official residence of the person entrusted (on a term basis) to perform governments’ affairs in Salt Cay. The official title was in those years “The Government Officer” now The District Commissioner.
I am happy to chronicle this small portion of the rich heritage of Salt Cay, and to share with our readers a glimpse of how the Government Officers and their “first ladies” comported themselves. On behalf of those old rooms and halls it is my pleasure to introduce you to some of the families who occupied The Residence.
I am aware that before I was born, sometime in the mid-30’s The Residence was occupied by Mr. Richard Been and his wife Mrs. Anna Been and their children, and that their son Jimmy (James) Been was born in Salt Cay. It is interesting to note that years later Jimmy (now deceased) married a Salt Cay beauty – Dorothy Smith and they relocated to Nassau, Bahamas. After his term in office Mr. Been retired to Grand Turk.
My earliest memories are of the early fifties when the Jennings family occupied The Residence. Mr. Christie Jennings was the Government Officer, and his wife Helen was famous for baking and selling the most delicious bread and cakes. With an easterly wind you could actually smell Ms. Helen’s delicious bakery two lots away to where I lived!! Mr. Jennings was a man with an austere appearance, a rigid outlook to whom a child like me would meekly say “Good morning, Sir”. He would slightly bow in acknowledgement. I could never remember if he ever said “good morning” in return.
Mr. Jennings was always the perfect gentleman, impeccably dressed for the office in a white drill suit, stiff-starched and ironed. (Insomuch, we would joke, making sure we were not overheard, “the seam of Christie’s pants could cut a slice of Helen’s bread”). It took a washerwoman who knew her stuff to take care of Christie’s clothes. For the most part this was Helen’s job. She was assisted by her daughter Susan. Laundering and ironing white drill in those days was no simple task. The garments had to be soaked and scrubbed by hand with blocks of lye soap and a brush, after which they were rinsed in blue. Blue was bought in small blocks and melted in warm water and cost a farthing a block at the Morgan’s store. No wife of upper crust status in Salt Cay would have her husband dressed in a “dingy” white suit; and bluing made the garments very white.
After bluing, the garments were starched. This was another process for the experts. Lump starch, like cornstarch (costing two pence or “tuppence” a box), had to be prepared in hot water, cooled and then mixed into a tub of cold water drawn from the cistern. The mixture was thickened as required for the fabric being starched. The garments were soaked in the thickened starch water and then wrung out and laid flat on a rock wall to dry. When dried, the garments were sprinkled with cold water, rolled tightly and wrapped in a dry cloth in preparation for ironing.
Ironing was done with a heavy cast iron instrument called a “goose”. It is a two-part gadget. The bottom is filled with charcoal, and after the coals are lit, the top is latched on. Ironing begins when the gadget is hot. It is refilled and re-heated as required during the ironing process. It would normally take Helen and Susan about two or three days to have Christie “stiff-starched and ironed”.
Christie rode a bicycle. To avoid the cuffs of his pants touching the bicycle chain, he, like all the men who could afford a bicycle, (including my grandfather), would fold his pant cuffs tightly around his ankle and fasten the cuffs with a clip before hopping on his bicycle to ride slowly and stylishly across the pond folly to the Government Office. I say stylishly because Christie rode with a very erect military posture – chest thrust forward, shoulders straight and arms fully extended to grip the handlebars of his bicycle. It was fascinating to watch him ride his bicycle to work each day. The saltrakers in the ponds, or driving the mule carts filled with salt, or shoveling salt on the heaps, would pause to salute Christie. He would give his famous nod in acknowledgement.
After Christie retired, The Residence became home to the Adams family. Alexander L. Adams and Mrs. Ida Adams and their children moved from Grand Turk to Salt Cay where they stayed for many years. Mr. Adams (or Lovey as he was affectionately called) was a much younger man than Christie, and shared his office with Wilfred Wilson, who was the Police Officer in charge of a force which included only himself. Crime on Salt Cay, even petty thieving, was non-existent. Wilfred was also the Catechist of St. John’s Anglican Church and would not hesitate to remind everyone that his was the “second family” in Salt Cay – The Adams being the “first family”. Like Christie, Lovey also rode in style to the office on his bicycle.
Three of the Adams children, Robert, Kenneth, and Mavis, were born in Salt Cay, delivered by Susan Morgan. Susan was the midwife/nurse, and sole medical personnel on the cay. Whenever she was seen entering a house, you could be sure to hear the yelps of a baby soon after. We were told that Ms. Morgan brought the babies to the house in her shoulder bag – and we actually believed it !! Nursse Nellie Glinton assumed the post after Susan passed on.
After some years in Salt Cay, Mr. Adams was promoted and moved to Grand Turk to take up the position of Harbor Master. Mrs. Ida Adams, originally from Jamaica, was the Founder of the Pentecostal Church of God in Grand Turk and years later was posthumously honored for her work. Mr. Adams (now deceased) devoted the rest of his life to his beloved Methodist Church. His children serve our country in many important capacities. His daughter, The Rev. Julia Williams, is the first native Principal of the Community College and the first native Minister of the Methodist Church in the Turks and Caicos Islands, his son Rodney, a career police officer, is now a Deputy Commissioner of Police in The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, his daughter Honourable Karen Malcolm was a Member of Parliament and Minister of Education, Youth and Sports in our previous government, and his son Kenneth is the owner/operator of Building Materials Ltd./Do It Center.
The next first family in The Residence was Mr. Ulrich Williams and his wife Helena. They had no children. Ulrich was a former policeman. Mrs. Williams was a very friendly person, much loved by everyone. She was a faithful member of the Baptist Church, and socially, she set the pace for the latest style in ladies fashion. There were always many gasps, sidelong glances and oglings when Mrs. Williams appeared at church, The Queen’s Birthday celebrations or other national functions over which her husband presided. Mr. Williams also rode his bicycle to the office. He was a sweetheart and became so loved by everyone that he earned the nickname of “Arda”. Both have now passed on.
Following Ulrich was his brother Alexis Williams, (also a former policeman), accompanied by his wife Florence and their children. This was a very different First Family. Both Alexis and Florence were very outgoing. Gone was anything even remotely resembling social stuffiness between The Residence and the rest of the island. Miss Florence was everyone’s friend, and although Mr. Lexis owned a bicycle, walking was his favorite way of travel. Tall, light-skinned and lanky, he walked with a swagger, widely swinging his long arms as he walked to and from his office, waving “hello” to everyone. A jovial man with a hearty laugh, I have never seen him without his big smile. He showed a keen interest in the School and like all of his predecessors, he would visit on occasions and speak to the students regarding the importance of dedicated study. I remember one day Lexis saw me reading a Shakespeare comedy and suggested that a little girl like me could not digest what I was reading. After our short conversation, Lexis told me (in his throaty drawl) he thought I would be a writer when I grew up. To this day, whenever I think about writing, I remember his words. Both Alexis and Florence have passed on.
Sometime during 1966 Lloyd Been, a businessman and Methodist Layman was appointed to the position of Government Officer. He served until January 1972 when he died while attending a Methodist Synod in Nassau. He never moved into the Residence, but continued to live in his private sprawling two-storied house on the waterfront in Balfour Town. Lloyd was the first Salt Cay man to serve in this position since Mr. Richard Been. He was followed by Mr. Bert Quant of South Caicos who served until 1976.
In 1976 the islands were handed an advanced constitution when the party political system was introduced. The People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) became the first elected government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. They decentralized much of the administration, and the name “Government Officer” was changed to “District Commissioner”. Mr. Sterlin Garland, a Salt Cay man and veteran Public Official (now deceased) became the first District Commissioner and the last person to occupy The Residence. Sterlin’s three children continue to give dedicated service to their country. His daughter Judith, an attorney works with Invest TCI, Mark is the Deputy Director of Education and Toney is a food and beverage connoisseur.
Following are District Commissioners to date:
Mr. Stanley Brooks – 1980 – 1981 - deceased
Mr. Kingsley Been (son of Lloyd Been) – 1981 – 1987 - deceased
Mr. Stephen Smith July 1987 - 1988
Mrs. Patricia Simmons – 1988 – July 31, 1998
Ms. Emily Lurleen Malcolm – August 1, 1998 – August 1, 2000
Mrs. Lydia Ewing Butterfield – September 1, 2000 – Sept 2002
Mrs. Sharon Taylor – January 2003 – April 2004
Mrs. Dottis Arthur – My 2004 – August 2007 - deceased
Mrs. Carolyn Smith-Dickenson Sept 2007 – Jan 2011
Mrs. Almaida Simmons-Wilson 2011 – to date. Mrs. Wilson is a daughter of the soil of Salt Cay. I dare say she is also daughter-in-law to “The second family” of Wilfred Wilson.
The Government House in Salt Cay is now the property of the National Trust, which is doing its best to raise awareness of this national treasure, to restore it to its former glory.
Readers who may be inclined to make a donation to the restoration of this historical building, may contact The Director of the National Trust, Mrs. Wynema Penn at email@example.com
Sandra E. Garland
For National Heritage month