While St. John residents are gearing up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Virgin Islands National Park on Friday, December 1, an 86-year-old man in North Carolina is getting ready to mark the day as well.
David Stick has good reason to look back on St. John through the years — he lived at remote Lameshur Bay in 1954 before there was a VINP.
David Stick’s father, Frank Stick, worked with Laurance Rockefeller to obtain land for the original Gift of Deed, which established the park back in 1956.
While Frank Stick worked closely with Rockefeller, it was actually David Stick who held title to the 2,000-acre Lameshur Bay land.
Purchase from Widow Creque
By the time David Stick purchased the land from a St. Thomas widow Mrs. Creque, the Sticks were already involved with National Park Service officials through their work trying to establish a federal park in the Kitty Hawk area of North Carolina.
In 1953, before he purchased the land, David Stick wrote to NPS officials he had been working with in North Carolina that he had to travel to the Virgin Islands for a real estate deal.
“I have made arrangements to make a quick trip to the Virgin Islands next week, which means I won’t be available say for the last two weeks in March,” David Stick wrote to the assistant director of the National Park Service in 1953. “I have completely neglected my business this winter, and have an opportunity to figure in a real estate sale in the Virgin Islands, which, for personal financial reasons, I feel I must take advantage of.”
Lameshur Property Available
Originally from Interlaken, New Jersey, Frank Stick was the small town’s first mayor and a man named Ridge Folk was the first policeman. Both men were avid fishermen and both had ties to the Virgin Islands later in life.
“My mother and my dad traveled a lot and my dad was an avid fisherman,” said David Stick. “They came across the Virgin Islands and someone they ran into was Ridge Folk. Ridge was already living in the Bordeaux area and he told dad about the Lameshur property being available and found the contact for dad to purchase the land.”
After sealing the deal with the widow Creque, Frank Stick traveled to St. John with the intention of developing the Lameshur Bay property, where Ridge Folk and his wife Linda were the resident caretakers.
National Geographic Note
The Folks enjoyed a bit of fame in their day, as they were featured in the famous February 1956 National Geographic article profiling St. John. The Folks actually hosted the National Geographic writer at Lameshur Bay and were mentioned in the piece.
But before the Folks made their way into the national magazine, they helped David Stick and his young pregnant bride settle into Lameshur Bay for about a year and a half.
“It was primitive,” said David Stick. “We had an old jeep and I remember I drove the donkey trail from Lameshur up to Bordeaux Mountain. Several times I had to turn around to get around curves and I just went back and forth after a foot or two.”
“I’d never do that today,” he added.
Impressed by Smith
David Stick worked restoring a few of the structures on the Lameshur Bay property and was impressed with a local wood worker.
“There was a man from Coral Bay named Alan Smith who a very distinguished-looking gentleman,” said David Stick. “He was the leader of the work crew and he was very impressive. I named my first son after him — I’ve never forgotten him.”
After toiling around the property and frequently traveling back to North Carolina for a little more than a year, David Stick’s father Frank Stick and Rockefeller were already setting about establishing the VINP.
“I was damn tired of going back and forth and our first child was born when this was going on,” said David Stick. “Every time I used to driving on the left side there, I had to go back to North Carolina and get used to driving on the right-hand side. But I loved it down there.”
After restoring several building on the land, the Sticks decided against further development.
“Dad already had great experience with the National Park Service,” said David Stick. “Dad thought it was terrible to desecrate that beautiful property and he wrote a letter to the Governor of the Virgin Islands and to Laurance Rockefeller suggesting the land be preserved.”
“I agreed with dad and thought it would be terrible to develop that beautiful property,” David Stick continued.
Kitty Hawk Connection
When the property was finally sold to Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole Preserve, there were at least three other people on the deed in addition to David Stick, including investors involved in the North Carolina Kitty Hawk Land Trust.
Each of the investors turned a small profit, except Frank Stick who donated his portion of the property to Jackson Hole Preserve, according to David Stick.
David Stick, who received $7,000 for working on the land, now thinks putting his name solely on the deed might have been a set-up.
“It has occurred to me since that maybe if the project failed, I would have been the fall guy,” said David Stick. “The investors had hoped to make a killing, but only ended up making a modest profit. They weren’t as happy as my dad and I.”
Once Jackson Hole Preserve owned the 2,000-acre Lameshur property, Frank Stick and Rockefeller set about collecting more property for the future federal park.
“One of the problems was getting people to sell their land,” said David Stick. “Dad, having been involved in real estate in the North Carolina National Park project, worked with Rockefeller. When the others were planning it, Dad got all that was needed to establish the park.”
“Dad had the option and Rockefeller put up the money,” David Stick continued.
Never Made It Back
After his stint at Lameshur Bay, David Stick returned to North Carolina where he went on to write non-fiction books and a series of biographies. David Stick was only back in St. John once since 1955.
“I went back to St. John on a tour about 10 to 15 years ago now,” said David Stick. “I talked to someone from the Park Service, but I didn’t make it out to Lameshur Bay. I had to get back to Red Hook and get back to the ship so there was no time.”
“I’m sure the area probably looks almost exactly the same — it’s one of the few places in the world that would,” David Stick said.