There are no local records keepers or archives, definitely no computer files, to research and historians can only go by what we are told from the old-timers, those who are still around.
Some of the men of Cherokee worked in the boat-building trade which helped to support a fleet of over twenty fishing Smacks sailing out of the settlement with many of the local men working as fishermen. There were approximately 400 residents in Cherokee, the largest settlement in Abaco, actually larger than Hope Town was at that time. However, Cherokee was not blessed with a deep water harbor like some of the other cays, and it was not accessible by a road either, making it more difficult to get to.
In the early 1950’s, when motorized vessels came into fashion, and Cherokee’s Fishing Smacks became obsolete almost overnight, the fisherman were not able to transform their fishing boats into motor vessels. People started moving away from Abaco in search of work. Only a few were lucky enough to be hired by the Government Contractor who came to build the Clinic as well as the school residence out along the hill-shore somewhere around that time.
Since there was no road into Cherokee at that time, all building materials for the new (old) clinic had to come by mail boat from Nassau, off-loaded at Little Bay, ferried around by small boats through Duck Cay Channel and taken off at the abutment on the north end of the settlement. Sometimes, when the tide was high they could drop it off on the Long Dock on the south side, closer to the site.
Every bag of cement, every piece of lumber, all plumbing supplies, all medical supplies and every piece of furniture, had to be carried by small trolley or wheel-barrows through the settlement to the construction site on the back road since there were no cars or trucks here either. There was no main road and no parking lot back then; only mangrove, rock and swash, lots of bush and some individual dumpsites. There wasn’t even a sidewalk until after 1955, just a dirt track when it also acquired the name of Duke Street (the only named street I can remember having an official sign when I first visited Cherokee in 1961).
Of course there was no electricity or running water, only well water pumped by hand, and being so close to sea level some wells were more brine than fresh. Most of the households got their wash water from the community cistern located in the school yard that collected rainwater from the church roof across the street and their drinking water from a generous neighbor with a sweet-water well which had been dug on higher ground.
Without electricity there were no electric drills, saws or pneumatic hammers; but I was told the cement mixer did have a gas engine that they used on the construction of the clinic. Sand came from the nearby beach, but everything else had to be shipped in from Nassau on the mail boat, which only came once a week weather permitting.
Back then The Bahamian islands were still a possession of Great Britain and the pound sterling the accepted currency. The workmen were paid one pound ten shillings per day, the equivalent of $4.20 in today’s currency and the boys carrying sand and rock only made five shillings, or 70 cents for a day’s work.
I’ve been told that Mr. Granville Bethell, Chairman of the local Board of Works, and the local Justice of the Peace, Mr. Walter Sands, both now deceased, complained loud and clear about the quality of the work being done by the Government man hired to oversee the job by mixing seven parts sand to one part cement, but it obviously fell on deaf ears. The local people believed the building was put on “growing rock” without a proper foundation. They have told me that that they personally witnessed the foundation being filled in with conch shells and sand, rather than dirt, rock or quarry, and topped off with only a two inch layer of cement to hold the flooring. Because of this, the whole building soon started to shift, resulting in large cracks in the ceilings, walls and floor, making it almost impossible to properly close windows and doors. However, these imperfections didn’t stop the clinic from being used on a regular basis for the next 50 to 60 years.
The Government Doctor had to be picked up at Big Mangrove and come across The Sound in a small boat, a distance of about two miles. He stopped coming to Cherokee not long after the main road was pushed through in 1986 with the excuse that, “now patients could get to them on the mainland via the new road.” Never mind that the Government Clinic for the southern district of Abaco is in Sandy Point over 60 miles away.
In recent months the Government Nurse has been visiting Cherokee periodically, but she sees patients in the community center, a one-room open public building with no privacy and many patients say they would rather not go at all than be exposed to other patients being in the same room with their “big ears”.
The time is well past due – Cherokee needs a new clinic. After 25 years of being without an operational clinic the will and determination of the good citizens of Cherokee in partnership with The Abaco Club at Winding Bay finally decided to take destiny into their own hands last year by resolving to build a brand new Clinic themselves by way of donated materials, voluntary labour and lots of fund-raising.
This new clinic will not be a private clinic, as some people are trying to claim, no more than our community center has a private owner. It is there for the people of Cherokee. It is on Government owned land, is being built to accommodate the visiting Government Doctor or Nurse and is for the convenience of any patients situated in this area of Abaco, as well as visitors, second-home owners and retired residents in near-by Little Harbour and Winding Bay. Government officials approved and issued a Building Permit for plans submitted and they were also approved by the Ministry of Health. It will be built according to Bahamian Hurricane Standards and pass inspection by Bahamian Government Inspectors to make sure the work complies with the architectural drawings and all building regulations.
According to the people who are working with “the committee” on this project, they only want to make sure it’s done right this time.
A recent newsletter was put out by the Cherokee Community Clinic Committee with an up-date on the status of the project for the new clinic with a request for a little help from those who could benefit from it. They vow to keep everyone well informed of the progress and are determined to finish the job they have started.