East End Roots
The 1960’s Foreign Encroachment and the First Gringos to Build Their Homes on Roatan

August 1st, 2011
by Anne Jennings Brown


Ann Jenning’s house in Port Royal

Ann Jenning’s house in Port Royal

At the age of 78 I suddenly found myself as the oldest living ‘relic’ of those early times on Roatan. Back in 1966 I had the distinction of being the only English person to have settled on the island for at least a hundred years. The islanders were staunchly British in their allegiance, consequently I and the islanders had much in common from the start. The handfuls of other interlopers, besides me, were of American nationality, including my husband at that time, Howard Jennings, who was a Texan.

I thought it might be interesting to record the sequence of events leading to the arrival of the first foreigners on the island, and look at who they were as well, should anyone be interested in future years.

The first home was built by a Californian, Nell Hutton, in 1965 in a ranch -style, and was erected on The Point in Oak Ridge, opposite the lighthouse (which hadn’t worked for years). The house was used by her brother, Harvey Mayer, and his first wife, Bunny. Harvey started the ice plant in Oak Ridge which later became the Shrimp Processing Plant when it was bought by other Americans in the late sixties. Harvey had been a motor racing driver and cars were his passion. Sadly there were no roads on the island at that time on which to indulge his dreams, only the little passenger boat — The Norma Don..

The boat ploughed its way daily, except on the Sabbath and when the seas did not permit, between Oak Ridge and Coxen Hole, with plenty of stopping off places in between. There was only one telephone on the island and it was situated in Coxen Hole; there was also a telegraph office there and another in Oak Ridge, and no electricity except that which one generated oneself; we preferred to use wind-chargers in Port Royal.

Howard and I built Port Royal Lodge in the completely deserted harbor of Port Royal in 1966, choosing the already leveled site of an old cooperage, according to early maps. As I was paying for it as well as designing it, we had an English Tudor style, black and white house made with lath and plaster walls between ironwood supports. The dock was built over the original stones of the cooperage dock. Our home was sold in 1968 and subsequently became a hotel.

We had just completed The Lodge when Paul Adams bought land at the West End of the island on which his son, John Adams, and his first wife, Anne, started what would finally become Anthony’s Key Resort. They lived initially in an old shack which was situated where the boat house was eventually built. With their two small children and no modern amenities, they gradually built the lovely and modern hotel of today, always being careful to remain in harmony with the indigenous character of the island.

All this time John Henley, who ran a printing business in Birmingham, Alabama, was visiting the island in intervals, and buying or leasing land with an eye to future development. Having bought Merlee’s Island Inn in Oak Ridge where he would stay on his visits, he did not ever build a home of his own on Roatan.

Grant Hoag, a Californian member of the JC Penny family, arrived next to build a house in Neverstain Bight which, after a couple of years, he leased to some people who were caught with a stash of drugs; as a consequence, his house was summarily demolished.

Howard and I then built Thayne Muller’s house in Port Royal in 1969, in a Tudor style similar to The Lodge. After Thayne died in a plane crash his son, Mike Muller, lived there for some years. Later, the house fell into disrepair and was finally demolished in a hurricane.

In 1969 Howard and I then built the third Tudor-style house, this time on the historical site of Fort Fredrick in Port Royal. In 1976 Howard also died in a plane crash. I finally had the house demolished in 1979.

It was in the 1970’s that an influx of Americans arrived on the island and started building homes: Roy Anderson was one of the first and built a ranch-style house in Port Royal in which his son Eric eventually lived. Several more Americans built houses around the harbor and further West, the most notable and substantial at that time being the Moore’s and the Cree’s family homes.

I may have missed mentioning some notable 1960’s gringo homes. I hope I will be corrected by those who remember the details better than I do. I have discounted indigenous style homes and also the hotels. By 1971 there were eleven scattered around the island, according to William Davidson’s excellent book, Historical Geography of the Bay Islands, and that is another subject. [/private]

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