Something to be proud of surely. Bahamian labour built the Paradise Island Bridge in 1966 to 1967. Some 44 Bahamians and 3 Americans and a 33 year old American engineer, undertook a project, which steer a new economic and social course for Nassau.
Considering the social significance at the time, it is a grave historical oversight, that the names of these 44 Bahamians, have not been preserved for posterity.
Paradise Island Bridge was more than just overpass. This, first of its kind, undertaking for the country, connected two growing tourist economies – Nassau and Paradise Island. Growth and development for these two islands, could now be facilitated by the automobile, rather than solely by ferry boat.
For Paradise Island, a new bridge would spur on an accelerated schedule of hotel, resort, airport, condominium and house construction.
Men, equipment and building materials could be transported in minutes, rather than having it all loaded on boats to be ferried over.
We also forget the social segregation that once existed across The Bahamas, especially in Nassau.
Hog Island, as it was once called, became a refuge for runaway slaves from Nassau and the Out Islands. Access could only be had by boat and it was difficult searching the thick brush. Slaves hid there and were protected and fed by free negroes.
Governor Dunmore took the entire Hog Island for himself. After his death, his family were made to give up all claim to it in return for his pension. It wasn’t his to take in the first place, but such were the luxuries of old governorship, in early colonial times.
After slavery, Hog Island became small allotment farming land. Bahamian whites and blacks once owned acreage on it.
However, it soon became valuable and exclusive because it was only accessible by boat. Blacks, in particular, sold out or just had their generation land usurped as grandparents and parents died off without leaving title documents.
From the late 1800s, it was being used as a tourist and health sanctuary. There was a hotel and casino there in 1899.
By World War II, Hog Island became the exclusive area of the rich, for personalities like, war-time, Nazi sympathiser Alex Wenner Gren. His famous land title dispute with then 100 year old Roseliza Price, went all the way to the Privy Council.
Roseliza would testify that she used to take the boat over and farm on Hog Island. Her daddy left it to her. During the war and of course, age prevented her from checking on the generation Hog Island property for a number of years. It was doing those years, great land grabs and generational land selling took off. In other words, lack of accessibility to Hog Island, played a major factor for many Bahamians being able to enjoy their own land.
Paradise Island Bridge would change that history as well. It wasn’t just a tourist, economic necessity. That first bridge help rest part of a haunted and tortured history.
Paradise Island Bridge, was renamed to Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge, in 2012.