I traveled to Crowsnest Pass, Alberta Canada in October to visit Rosalie Harriott where has lived for many years.
I spent three days interviewing Rosalie and copying photographs from her collection. I learned a great deal, and connected a lot of "dots" about the salt industry and the Turks Islands.
Brown House/Sunnyside And The Legendary "Salt Barons"
The Brown House was bought by the Harriott’s in the late 1800's for Howard Harriott and his first wife, Rosalie. Rosalie died quite young of TB, after giving birth to three children, Franklyn, Gladys and Natalie. He thereafter married Winnie Rigby.
Daniel (Niel) Harriott, the elder brother of Howard, lived in the White House. The Brown House was then named "Sunnyside". With the untimely, early death of Niel in 1912. The White House was closed for at least 10 years and no one resided there. Niel’s widow returned to Grand Turk.
The White House was reopened in the early 30's when Franklyn and his bride Marjorie Durham (of South Caicos), came to Salt Cay to live. According to "The Bermudan", a newspaper reporting their honeymoon, they were to "return home where they will constitute one half of Salt Key’s white population".
Franklyn was Rosalie’s father, and the last of the salt proprietors. Franklyn’s sisters were Gladys Hinson Harriott, a "maiden aunt" and Natalie Harriott Dunn, who is the grandmother of Tim and Jonathon Dunn. Natalie married Reverend Howard Dunn and had 2 sons, Michael and Ian with him.
Franklyn Harriott installed electric lighting and a bathroom in the White House. The downstairs kitchen remained until one of the cooks set the place on fire. At that point, a bedroom on the main floor was converted to a kitchen with a kerosene cooker being used. Probably about as safe as the fire kitchen down below.
Howard Harriott died in a drowning incident at towards the end of World War II. While on Grand Turk for a salt industry meeting, he insisted on returning to Salt Cay late in the day and in bad weather. He returned in a boat with 3 oarsmen—yes, rowing from Grand Turk—wearing a 3 piece suit and shoes–not good swimming wear.
The boat capsized in the area north of Salt Cay where the channel meets the shallows. Manuel Simmons, a "good man" according to Rosalie, perished with Howard Harriott. The other two oarsmen managed to save the boat and swim it the five miles to Salt Cay in the rough sea.
Winnie, Howard’s widow then left Salt Cay and returned to Grand Turk where she too was originally from.
Sunnyside then was closed. A trade ensued through the years whereby the White House was traded to the Dunn’s for Sunnyside. Sunnyside was then sold and the progression of owners began that continues to this day–and it has returned to being called the Brown House–a name that even Rosalie cannot explain.
The term salt baron is one that Rosalie had never heard of until her return to Salt Cay in 1995. There was more than one salt proprietor on Salt Cay and no one was a "baron". The Harriott’s were the largest proprietors of ponds, but they weren’t barons.
Wealth was really relative. The Harriott’s were the only "whites" on the island, and had many things that most people didn’t have. They had "stuff" the Islanders did not have. Pay was relative to what the industry paid. But compared to what other people of the then "modern" world had, it wasn’t much. In reality, the depression was really the death knell of the Turks Islands salt industry.
When Franklyn Harriott came to Salt Cay live in the White House, it was 1931. The depression was still very real. When the depression let up, war in Europe was going on. Remember, Turks Islands were part of Great Britain, so they were at war long before the US was involved.
When the US entered the war and it went to a global scale, the salt industry was really in trouble, and shipping became impossible.
Post war, when a 10,000 ton ship came to collect salt in the "modern" way, the three islands of Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos couldn’t fill the holds, and that really spelled trouble. Young men did not want to work in the salt industry for little or nothing, doing work that was beyond hard, long and boring. They left and never returned.
In 1952 the Harriott’s left Salt Cay for good, going to Canada. Nationalization of the salt industry was the beginning of the end. Though preferred shareholders, there was not enough of a future in salt to keep it a viable industry and financial ruin was inevitable. This part, for Rosalie Harriott, is very difficult to discuss and share, but as a historian, they are the facts.
Franklyn Harriott, the last of the Harriott proprietors, died of a heart attack at the age of 61 in 1960, a broken man. At 50 years of age, when he left Salt Cay, he could not get a job. He was extremely stressed which broke his health. His widow, Marjorie, lived on until 79 years of age, having owned a dress shop in Vancouver, BC and later working for a department store.
This is really just a "nutshell" of the Harriott history, and one I intend to write and research in the months to come. It is a fascinating story and one I think many people will enjoy.
Brown House Renovation
Work really is going forward on the Brown House as this goes to "press". The entire lower floor basement is exposed and the dining room floor is gone. You can look up into the house from the ground.
There are huge, 14x30x34 foot beams for the floors that arrived by Lew Tide on the morning of the wedding. These things are monsters and I’d not like to be on the crew doing this remodel. Word is the cost is going to reach $1 million when it is done. There is a dedicated Haitian work crew working 6 days a week on this building. Expect significant improvements by the winter.
In other building projects, Nathan is now clearing and preparing to build on a lot across from Poley’s house, 1 lot north of the Old Cemetery.
Other than that, and Clyde’s house, not much is happening.