Dr. Gilbert Sprauve Shares Stories of Olden Times in Cruz Bay as Part of Tourism Week

JESS students, above, listen to Dr. Gilbert Sprauve talk about the “good ole” days on St. John during Tourism Week celebrations outside of the department’s Cruz Bay visitor’s center.

Dr. Gilbert Sprauve recreated the bygone days of St. John on Wednesday, May 11, as part of the Department of Tourism’s celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week.

DOT officials hosted activities across the territory last week, from a reception for the employees at both the Cyril E. King and Henry Rohlson Airports on Friday, May 13, to celebrations at local ports featuring musicians and refreshments.

On St. John, festivities were centered in Cruz Bay with live music at the Cruz Bay Creek and storytelling and refreshments in front of the DOT’s Visitors Center near Frank Powell Park.

Passersby enjoyed fresh pates, dumb bread, salt fish and tarts while sipping local juices like tamarind and ginger. Several artisans displayed their hand-crafted wares as Dr. Sprauve shared stories about island life more than half a century ago.

Julius E. Sprauve School students listened as Sprauve talked about the days before electricity illuminated the night and motor vehicles clogged the roads.

“My first trip to St. John was on a sail boat out of Red Hook,” said Sprauve. “Think of Cruz Bay as pristine, without a single boat in the harbor and then imagine just three or four sail boats in the bay. The wharf where you catch the ferry, imagine that goes out only as far as where the cashier sits and gives out tickets.”

“There were three sail boats that were means of transportation back then,” Sprauve said. “This was in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

Ever Ready, owned by the Jurgens family, was the slowest of the three, according to Sprauve.

Eddy Moorehead’s Speed was the fastest one and Charles Smith’s Lillian was the broadest, Sprauve explained.

“Some felt that in a favorable wind, Lillian could be the fastest,” he said.

With no electricity lighting up the island back then, playing hide and seek in the darkness of Cruz Bay was a special treat for children, Sprauve told the students.

“Imagine Cruz Bay so dark, we would stump our toes playing hide and seek because you couldn’t see,” he said. “The only lights came from a few candles and lanterns.”

Taking a trip to Coral Bay to visit family and friends was a full day’s adventure back then, explained Sprauve.

“We would arrange a riding party to Coral Bay and we’d leave at 4 a.m. to reach Coral Bay by 2 p.m.,” he said. “We’d go by donkey or horse. Not only after we arrived out there, they would tell us to get ready to head back soon before darkness catches us on the road.”

It was so quiet back in the olden days that the first thing one heard when sailing into the harbor on a Sunday morning was the choir from the Nazareth Lutheran Church, according to Sprauve.

“Imagine it so quiet that sailing in by boat, the first thing you hear is singing coming from the Lutheran Church on Sunday morning,” said the historian. “One voice stood out above even the melody. Lordeon Boynes’ mother Dina Boynes had a country alto you wouldn’t believe.”

“You could hear her voice out by the reef as you were sailing in,” said Sprauve.

Students listened eagerly to Sprauve’s tales from the past and even answered questions in order to win prizes from DOT officials.

Over at the Cruz Bay Creek Rooney Rhymer on steel pan and Allen Fruman on guitar kept the crowds awaiting ferries to the British Virgin Islands entertained.