Roatan Past, Roatan’s Present
A Photographic Journey Through the Island’s History

January 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] While photographs today are taken for granted and are a disposable way of communicating, they were treated differently even 10-20 years ago. A photographer taking a photo in a community in 1910s, or 1920s was a major event and attracted curious onlookers.

Photographs are a document and witness of passing time. Photographs give us a glance at what we lost, not only what we have gained. With time, photographs become our collective memory, a form of cultural heritage.

Over the last five years Bay Islands Voice came across photographs from around the Bay Islands as old as 1902. Recently we went back to some of these same places and took images from the same spots around the island. Several people were interviewed about the photographs, to help us gain a more intimate understanding of what we are looking at. Here is what we found out.

Methodist Cemetery


In the 1960s the area West of Coxen Hole town was accessible by a sandy road that turned into a beachside footpath leading West to Gravels Bay and Flowers Bay settlements.

The Methodist Sunday School and Church building have been torn down to make room for a cruise ship dock in early 1990s. The reverend’s house (Reverend Cooper from Utila in the 1960s), is visible on the hill. Today the structure is part of the Methodist school complex.


Jail & Clock Tower
1960s (Photographer unknown)

Telegraph office, police station and jail were located on the southern slope of the Government hill overlooking Coxen Hole, right above the municipal park. Jail structure’s walls made of thick adobe. “They would take you to the hill and give you a ‘Spanish sweat’,” explained Ora Webster. Telegraph office was eventually replaced by Hondutel offices and switchboard. Jorge Smith, was a dispatcher there for many years.

A local story says that the clock mechanism in Coxen Hole was actually destined for Jamaica, but due to circumstances was disembarked in Coxen Hole. A clock keeper was responsible for maintenance of the clock that rung out every quarter hour and on the hour. In 1920s, 1930s, the clock tower was wooden, but it was laiter made into a concrete structure. The clock was still working in 1980s. A water reservoir is visible in the lower right corner.

Main Street looking West
(1960s – courtesy of the Warren Family)

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Several buildings in this old photograph still survive today. Looking from the left side of the photo: the Catholic Church, John J house and across the street a two storey clinic and pharmacy of Doc Polo Galindo (Doña Ita’s House) are visible. The tall house with slim columns served a health center for many islanders looking for medical attention from 1950s thru 1980s.

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El Swampo
(1984- photo by J.P. Panet)

Behind government hill of Coxen Hole a low income settlement was begun in 1970s. In 1950s there only two-three houses on the site that flooded with every rain, one of them belonging to Jim Bodden. There were no streets, just elevated plank walks for people to walk from house to house. Julio Galindo filled-up the El Swampo (the Swamp) in 1970s.

Today parts of El Swampo are still one of the poorest neighborhood on Roatan and its lowest parts flood with intense fall rains. With paving of several streets the neighborhood has stabilized and is growing.

Main Street looking East
(1960s – courtesy of the Warren Family)

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A lonely horse rider rides East thru deserted main street of Coxen Hole. “It was a lonely town,” says Rolando Galindo. It is an image of clean and organized street of Coxen Hole of 1960s, before cars arrived on the island many people traveled on horseback.

Old, two-storey municipal building is on the left, followed to the left by Mr. Litrico’s house. On the right Libby Bodde’s house, Magralena house can bee seen. The town’s main street was lined with concrete slabs and filled in with sand and clay to provide a hard, smooth surface for walking and riding horses. Underneath savage pipes would carry refuse to the sea.

This photo was taken from the porch of the Warren Hotel that was founded in 1955, the first hotel in Coxen Hole. The Hotel became H.B. Warren Supermarket and today is Sun Supermarket.

Bay Islands Voice world like to thank all the people who have contributed their photographs to the photographic project and volunteered their time to comment on the old photographs. Particular thanks to: Bill and Irma Brady, Sheryl Galindo, Rolando Galindo, Esther Fay Woods, Daine Etches and to her mother Katharine Woods.


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