Estate Sieben &Mollendal Memories
My brother, Vernon, and I were born at Estate Sieben; that meant that somebody had to get on a horse and go to Cruz Bay and get Miss Myrah, for whom the Clinic is named, and then she had to get on her horse and come all the way down to Sieben to make the delivery.
I wish you could have seen the Estate when it was cleared. The bush is all grown up now, so you really can’t get a feeling for what it was like then, but it is a beautiful Estate when cleared, because the topography is so varied. There was a very large beautiful flat area, deep, deep valleys, and rolling hills. There were a lot, a lot, of fruit trees. There was no shortage of water because there is a gut, part of Fish Bay Gut really, which passes through Estate Sieben. And in that part of the gut, there were large pools, so large that we could swim in them. They were filled, filled, filled with lots of fish and lots of freshwater shrimp. So there was lots of water for the families who lived here and for the animals.
Mr. Elroy Sprauve and his brother Vernon
at the Sieben Estate
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Spear)
There were two types of mango that were grown only from this part of the island–one was a tiny very sweet mango called ‘centbread’, I guess because it was named after the small breads that were sold for just one penny, and then there was another larger one called a peach mango. There was a gobi, or calabash, tree which might still be there, as calabash trees live a very long time, and the calabashes used to grow THIS large.
Our maternal grandmother is buried at Estate Sieben. She died in January of 1935. It was a sad and yet happy at the same time, as my brother Julius Sprauve, who would have been her first grandchild, was born in the next room one hour after she died. We had life and death at the same time. You can imagine how it was out there, with no neighbors around, with this happening. The gravestone may still be standing.
I think one thing I should bring to your memory–some years ago I was a member of the VI Humanities Council, and there was a Dr. Rashford who applied for a grant to study baobab trees, trees that are considered sacred in many parts of Africa. Dr. Rashford said he discovered that the largest concentration of baobab outside of Africa was in the US Virgin Islands. In his presentation to the Council, he said there were several on St Croix, a few on St Thomas and none on St John. And I said, “Dr Rashford, I think I can recall on Estate Sieben, there is a tree that fits your description.” Dr Rashford said that in that case, he would have to completely go over his proposal and asked if there were any way he could come to St John. So he came to St John, and we hiked down there–Noble Samuel, Dr Rashford and I think Jim Provost. When we got down to Estate Sieben, I was completely disoriented. My memory of Estate Sieben was when it was cleared, but it was all overgrown.
And then I began to have all these doubts; was the tree a figment of my imagination? Did I bring Dr Rashford all the way here and there’s no tree? So we decided to try; we began to look around, and then someone said ‘Look Up’ and there was the baobab tree. I don’t know about now, but for many years it was the only known baobab tree on St John; it was about 100 years old then.
As I said, the Estate was beautiful when it was cleared. There are lots of old ruins on the Estate. There is an old cemetery with several families buried there, as it was a very active Estate.
So I was born here, but when I made a month, my mother took me to Cruz Bay to be baptized and we remained there. We came back and forth, though, at least once a week; we picked fruit and kept animals here, and we had people living there and working on the Estate. During the summers, especially when the mangoes were ripe we came very, very often. We kept primarily goats–many, many goats– and sheep, and one or two cows. My father had a rapport with animals; he would just clap his hands and they would come out of the hillside to him.
Our closest neighbor was a lady we called Sarah Rasmus. For all her years, she never left this home; I don’t believe she ever saw electricity. And she told us we would know when she passed, as we would see the blue flies. Close to her would have been a gentleman named Batiste. They would have been maybe 2 miles away.
In those days, the Sieben road was a little more traveled. People from John’s Folly/Mollendahl (there are 2 Mollendahls on St John; this refers to the one now usually called Mandahl) would have used this road. There was no one at L’Esperance. There were people at Reef Bay and Little Reef Bay; however it was still very dark. I remember a story told me by Miss Myrah–she was returning from making a delivery of a baby in John’s Folly and she became caught in a rainstorm; it became so dark, all she could do was hold on to the horse. When she saw lamplight at my mother’s house, she managed to go there and spent the night.
People used to walk everywhere; it wasn’t unusual for my father to ask us to walk to Sieben/Mollendahl from Cruz Bay 2 or 3 times a week, and you met everyone walking to and from Coral Bay or Cruz Bay. Of course it wasn’t on the existing road that people walked; there were more direct paths. And Centerline Rd wasn’t paved until the early 1960s.
There is a chilling story of a murder here at Reef Bay in 1937; a man killed Anna Marsh. Rumor has it that he passed by Sieben and wanted to do harm to my father also. My father was not at home and a woman who lived by Mollendahl was spending the night with my mother. Someone called and knocked on the door, but they refused to open it. And then the next day they heard about Anna Marsh’s murder.
People going to Sieben also came to the Estate from the sea. I remember my grandmother saying that when she came to see my mother, they sailed into Fish Bay, put her into a rocking chair and carried her up the steep hills to the Estate. My father, an early businessman who acquired pieces of land as they were sold off as owners moved away (land wasn’t that expensive then), cut fuel to stoke the ovens for the Bakery on St Thomas; they would cut the wood and carry it down to Fish Bay for transport. The last person my father hired to work here was Mr. Christian, the grandfather of Alvis Christian. He (Julius Sprauve, Sr.) sold the Sieben Estate to the National Park in the 1950’s.
See the related items:
[Mollendahl][Sieben][Way of life]