Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Remembrances of Gifft Hill - The Castle

The consensus among the Denhams is that our fondest memories of living on St. John are of the years we lived at Gifft Hill.

When we first moved to Gifft Hill, the Thomas’s were the only other family living up there. At that time, it was a pretty isolated place, being as it was, three miles from Cruz Bay and at the end of a mile long trail that was more like a rocky river bed than a road.

We were the first white people to live up there. And, like the majority of people on St. John, we lived in a tiny old wooden shack. We called it the Castle.

What do I mean by tiny old wooden shack? Originally it had been one room about ten feet wide and 20 feet long. It had been built about a foot off the ground. We heard a story that it had been blown off its foundation and lifted across the yard during a hurricane. To keep that from happening again a second room had been built of exactly the same dimensions. This second room had a hand poured pitted concrete floor. The first room was hauled back into place and secured to the new room. It had now become a large luxurious two room shack with matching peaked roofs.

By the time my parents bought the seven acres on which the Castle stood, it had morphed into four rooms and a tiny porch. One tiny room, no more than five by eight became the kitchen. The fourth tiny room became my parents’ bedroom, whose double bed occupied most of the space. The porch served as an auxiliary to the kitchen and was where we washed our dishes.

Here you can see the basic floor plan in this sketch I drew. There was probably less room around the beds and we had a rocking chair and some other pieces of furniture in the living room besides what I’ve drawn in.

We had no electricity and no running water. We did have a privy and, unlike our neighbors, the Thomas’s who collected rain water into several 55 gallon drums, we actually had a 600 gallon cistern.

The tin roof leaked in predictable places. The room where Erva and I slept was the original room, the one that had been blown off its foundation. A third of the room was divided by a curtain and the area behind it served as the family's colset. Places in the floor of the closet were rotted through and we could see the ground. I used to imagine fantastic treasures hiding under the floor. The wall between our bedroom and the living room had a serious case of rot, due to the valley of the two peaks meeting at that point. Whenever it rained the valley leaked which made the walls sort of weep. I always knew Christmas was approaching because in December pretty yellow mushrooms would grow out of the wall right over my bed.

We took our baths outside under the open sky at the back of the house. There was a shower curtain to provide privacy so those in living room looking out the window wouldn’t see a naked body.

Here’s picture of our first visit to the Gifft Hill property. You can clearly see the two peaks, the little porch and the add-on rooms to the left. In the back ground, center left, you can see a tall tree. That’s the mompoo Dad hung a swing in for my 10th birthday. In this picture, I’m coming around the back of the Willy’s station wagon. Mom and Erva are to the right. Our friend Bobby Mrazek is by the driver’s side door. The man standing slightly in front of Mom is our soon to be neighbor, Heber Thomas. That’s our jeep, the Yellow Dragon, in front of the station wagon. I think we all fell in love with the place as soon as we saw it. There was at least an acre of flat ground, a rarity in the islands. And the view of the south side of the St. John was, and still is, spectacular. On a clear day we could see not only to Ram’s Head Point but beyond to Virgin Gorda, some 35 miles away, in the British Virgin Islands. But always prominent were the white cliffs of Reef Bay.

Here’s a picture of the view taken from the spot where my swing used to be. This is what I saw as I’d soar out over the valley. Of course, back in late 1950’s and early 60’s there were no houses or roads on those hillsides.


  1. Wow Bish! What an amazing story and incredible pictures. It must have been amazing to grow up in such a unique place.

  2. What a view to be swinging over...soaring high, dreaming big...what a childhood!

  3. Thanks ladies. More Gifft Hill stories will be forth coming. There is so much tell, so many things remembered.


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