Early Days at Cinnamon Bay

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Photo courtesy of cinnamonbayresort.com.

Winter 65-66, first visit, prompted by article about camping there in Sunday NY Times travel section.  Before the mountain removal allowed big jets at St. Thomas, so we came on a late evening Pan Am flight to San Juan, then morning sea plane to Cruz Bay, with our tent and equipment.  Greeted by Kenneth Marsh who taxied us to camp. And later introduced us to his wife, Matt, a policewoman.  They “adopted” us and became our family here. And introduced us to the island ways. Matt later became a park interpreter, teaching about the healing plants and demonstrating the old ways of cooking at Annaberg.

Cinnamon Bay was then operated by the Woodsides.  Choice tent sites were close to the beach, behind the sea grapes.  Coleman fuel for stoves and lanterns was dispensed at a shack.  The commissary was in the old Danish warehouse, which now houses the archeology museum.  Dry goods and canned food were the main items available there.  One took supplies, noted them on restaurant checks which were placed in a cigar box and tallied at the end of our stay.  We had also brought supplies with us. In a subsequent visit, we were delighted to discover Miss Gladys’s store, then located in the building which now houses La Tapa.  The only familiar food item there was a large wheel of English cheddar cheese—delicious!

Also in later visits, we found Oscar’s Beanery, Fred’s, Miss Meada’s restaurant. and Miss Lillian’s grocery.

At Cinnamon we had pit toilets, and the shower was a pipe with a shower head in the open.  We surrounded ourselves with friends holding towels for privacy.  Then as now the water was the ambient temperature.  The Cottages had a bathhouse with toilets and showers, and on occasion, we would venture there.

We seldom left the beach, which then as now, seemed like paradise.  We had busy professional lives and our two weeks here was amazing.  We continued our annual visits, bringing family and friends, most of whom also became annual visitors. And in those olden times, we were welcomed into the homes of local people, being invited to parties and such fun as crabbing and spear fishing trips. The Park Service rangers and lifeguards became lifelong friends.  Later the Friday night fish fry at the pond mouth was the highlight of our social fun.  As was the evening visits from Park rangers when we played guitars and traded folk songs.  Other outstanding treats were the guided tours, both above and below the sea, conducted by Noble Samuel.

We came to know others here because Bob’s secretary was “barn here.” She made sure we got connected to her uncle Thomas who drove a big yellow safari.

Taxi drivers were great sources of help then as now.  On a trip from the airport, another time, our driver took us to Miss Lucy’s market on St. Thomas, where we discovered fresh and frozen foods.  That time, when we arrived at camp there was a rain storm that prohibited us from pitching camp.  Kenneth took us back to town to Hulda Sewer’s guesthouse, now the site of Tamarind Court, then took our perishables for storage in people’s fridges.  Of course, by morning the sun was bright and we went to camp.

We were so touched by the warmth and welcome shown us by many local people, many of whom still recognize us as long-time friends.

After the Woodsides were gone, the commissary and dining area moved to where they are now.  Through the years the restaurant had many permutations, at times with a lively bar scene.

In the early seventies, artisans from the states came and began to establish a presence.  The local paper was the St. John Drum. Tourists and land buyers arrived in increasing numbers, quite changing the character and make-up of the island.  But camping at Cinnamon Bay remains the perfect get-away for those of us who relish the proximity to nature.

Some of what I learned here:

  • Black Wattle tea helps congestion.
  • The painkiller bush, aka noni tree, starvation fruit, eases arthritic and other pains when applied as a poultice. The starvation fruits are made into noni juice in the Pacific and marketed worldwide as a tonic.
  • Night snorkeling reveals the glorious iridescent sea animals.
  • The many uses of aloe, particularly as a burn reliever.
  • How to dance the meringue, learned on Saturday nights at Eric’s hilltop.
  • The many birds and water fowl who winter here, as well as native species.

And now as Cinnamon Bay camp is undergoing another major change, I am reminded that the sage told us, “nothing endures but change.”

Sybil Lefferts

1 COMMENT

  1. I enjoyed this article. I was 5 years old at Cinnamon Bay in the summer of 1965. I was looking at a photo of my brother and two sisters with Noble Samuel just now and searched the internet for articles and found yours. Thanks for providing your memories of that time.