Best of Eleuthera with Joy Pyfrom – oral history of the island

In the Best of Eleuthera series  here is a fascinating dip into the oral history of the island with Joy Pyfrom – a resident here in Eleuthera since 1946.

Joy Pyfrom
Joy Pyfrom at home in Governors Harbour Eleuthera

Joy came to the Bahamas as a young woman in 1946 immediately after the Second World War and married local man Loraine Pyfrom a few years later. She is a wonderful source of local historical knowledge and at 87 years old is to be both treasured and grilled unrelentingly for her memories of what the island has been like through these last 68 years !

When I called to check that I was correct in saying that she arrived in 1946 – she told me it was July 17th 1946 that she arrived in Nassau and July 19th when she arrived – by boat of course in Governors Harbour  – oh for a memory like that !!

In the course of several conversations with Joy it became apparent very quickly that the Naval base here played an important role in the development of the island – so here as the first in a series of blogs about the recent history of Eleuthera is a quick delve into what impact NAVFAC had.

NAVFAC – or Naval Facility Eleuthera was started as a construction project around 1951 – although it was not officially commissioned until 1957 and was finally closed down- very quickly apparently – in 1980.

Originally known as the “US Navy Experimental Facility, Eleuthera”, the creation of the base dates back to November of 1950, when Western Electric was selected to build a demonstration SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) installation on the island as part of a project to track Soviet submarines in the Atlantic. 

Naval Base Eleuthera
Naval Base Eleuthera Photp credit to WA8UNS Thomas Q Kimball

 

Eleuthera Auxilliary Air Force Base (AAFB) began operations in September of 1957, – it was part of the Air Force’s  centre that monitored  long range rocket and guided missile launches for the Air Force , Army and Navy.  The Atlantic Missile Range as it was named included a dozen bases around the Caribbean, and even further away.

The above information comes from this website – http://www.projecteleuthera.org/ruins

Google map of Central Eleuthera
Google map showing the old navy base and the Governors Harbour Airport runway

US Army Engineers built the mile and a quarter length airstrip at Governors Harbour Airport in 1952 – this of course meant that the largest supply planes could land here easily and all these years later we can all be thankful for it.

There were around 150 servicemen and their families stationed in Eleuthera and many of them rented local houses and apartments – bringing much needed money into the area’s economy. They were a sociable lot and liked to mix which meant lots of parties and social functions.

Some of these ex-servicemen and their families still come to visit Eleuthera – check out some of their pictures on their Facebook page.

The actual Navy base itself has now fallen into total disrepair – although water storage is being made use of at the Reverse Osmosis water plant there  – see this article from the Eleutheran newspaper.

Joy talks of the impact that having the base here brought – over this period the  airport was developed and of course the coming of mains electricity happened as well – in 1954 !! – before that it was all kerosene lamps and kerosene fridges as well – and of course no air conditioning or fans until then – almost unimaginable now……

Watch out for more posts courtesy of Joy’s fantastic memory.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Best of Eleuthera with Joy Pyfrom – oral history of the island

  1. Met Mrs. Pyfrom at Stubbs BBQ a couple years ago. She inquired as to where I was from. I told her Bermuda. She then told me about coming to Eleuthera via Bermuda right after WWII. They were so happy to buy chocolate in Bermuda since they had not had chocolate in years because of the rationing. They were quickly disappointed when they resumed their travels and opened the chocolate only to find it had turned green!!!

    1. That is so funny ! I will tell her when I see her next that you commented on this and I just know that she will remember you. She has a really wonderful memory. Thanks for sharing your memories as well !

  2. March 2013- I joined the Haynes Library Wednesday tea group where I met Joy. Kathy’s mum was also there along with other welcoming women residing seasonally or permanently in Eleuthera. The treats were scrumptious…the conversations fun. I received many invites, one of which was Joy inviting me to her home. When I visited, Joy remarked “No one has ever taken me up on my offer!” I visited twice with Joy’s historic recollections are gifts. She has numerous photo albums with shots from the early years. The photos history is being preserved. I am compelled to keep aspects of her shared history private, but let’s just say that seeing her mother’s photos and mementos from her mom’s younger days in Rome, Paris and Milan are intriguing! Joy enjoys daily flower cuttings placed throughout her home; and her cats? Well, I love cats which by the way live out doors on the island along with chickens.

  3. It seems my great grandfather, John Corfias, married Lue Pyfrom and I have always been romantically inclined to think of them living on Governor’s Harbor, which is where my mother told me they were. They had 6 children; Ella Marie- was my grandmother, Olga, Mary (Tootsie), two other girls, and Manny the only boy; he died at an early age of influenza. I understand they migrated to Miami when Grandmother was young. They all stayed and began families except one girl, who returned to the island.

    My Grandmother Ella greatly influenced me when I was a small girl. She told me stories about her home on the island.

    I don’t know how true this is, but I was told they had sold their plantation and Grandmother Lue taped the money from the sale inside her dress. Everyone from that generation is gone now so I can’t check the validity of this. I grew up in Miami, left and raised my family. Even though I was that close, I never got to Eleuthra. I am still working on it. If I come, I plan to look up the Pyfrom House.

    Sincerely,
    Mary Ella Warhurst

    1. This is a lovely bit of history – do you know the name of the plantation ? – I will try and find out if there is any record of a plantation owned by john Corfias – thanks for writing ……

  4. This is so interesting. I am sort of a history buff and while doing my husband Charles’ ancestry I stumbled upon this story. Did I mention our last name is PYFROM. I wonder if their is a connection?

    1. That’s why the internet can be so great – tracing family history back over the years is so much easier now…… Good luck with your research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *