Memories of the Potlatch Club in Eleuthera

I recently went to chat with Governors Harbour resident Bill Burrows to hear his memories of the Potlatch Club in Eleuthera. Bill was born and bred in Governors Harbour and he worked at the Potlatch Club from 1961 until 1971…..  Potlatch for those of you who don’t know was on the Banks Road – just before Tippy’s restaurant and Pineapple Fields – you can see some of the old run down buildings still – just about standing. Both Tippy’s and Pineapple Fields are on the parcel of land that once was the Potlatch acreage.

Native Eleutheran and mine of information Mr Bill Burrows
Native Eleutheran and mine of information Mr Bill Burrows

It was a hotel / club that grew in an amusing organic way – more of which later. There had been a private house on the 60 acre site since the late 1940’s but in 1958 Elizabeth Taylor from the East Coast of the US visited Eleuthera to play golf and was captivated. She immediately contacted a friend of hers – Mrs Diane Adams and told her she needed to get down here ! Diane Adams, Marie Drakes and Elizabeth Fitzgerald then set up the Potlatch Club. Local contractors James Gaitor and Richard Rolle did most of the building work.

Front cover of the Potlatch Club brochure from the early 1970's
Front cover of the Potlatch Club brochure from the early 1970’s

Potlatch is a term derived from a North West American Indian ceremonial feast – where possessions are destroyed or given away to display wealth or enhance prestige !

Bill Burrows commented that it was not run in a very business like fashion – they would invite their friends down who would stay for weeks and bills were often not presented for the visit ! He remembers a sign which used to be hung at the club which read – ” This is a non-profit organization – it wasn’t meant to be so – but it is ! ”

Bill quickly learned to wait at table as well as becoming head barmen. He rapidly read up on how to make some of the more exotic cocktails they demanded and offered a great service to all the guests there. He became very well loved and was tipped generously. He fondly remembers Sir Harold Christie from Nassau who used to tip him one English pound during the sixties – worth the equivalent of around $50 now ! As an aside Sir Harold Christie from Nassau owned the house that we live in – Buena Vista – it was his vacation home !

More information from the brochure !
More information from the brochure !

Bill worked with the late Charles Sands and the pair of them used to enjoy serving early breakfasts on trays to guests who wanted an early start to go bone fishing – the kitchen didn’t start serving breakfast until 8am. Lunch was a buffet served around the pool and dinner a much more formal affair served in the restaurant. Guests would often arrive for dinner from Cotton Bay south of Rock Sound. French Leave was also open at this time and and the 2 places co-existed and were on very friendly terms.

Potlatch Club was perceived as an exclusive and sophisticated resort and according to Bill paid the best wages ! The club began to suffer financially given their un- business like approach so the ladies came up with a great scheme to raise much needed money. They sold off building plots to guests who would then have their own houses built which would be their home but also would provide accommodation for more hotel guests – a way of bringing in much needed capital but also in effect growing their business. These houses are still here on the land that used to belong to Potlatch. The architect Ray Nathaniels – living in Nassau at the time was a popular choice for designing several homes here in Eleuthera as well as having been involved in the design of the main building at Potlatch.

Potlatch brochure map
Potlatch brochure map

Sadly in 1971 Bill was warned by the hotel’s accountant that the business was about to fail – and he suggested that Bill look around for alternative work.

The place did founder and fail in the early seventies but was bought in 1979 by Robert Joiner but it never was open again as a hotel. Ros, his daughter , told me they would often be sitting around the pool and people would turn up and ask to see a lunch menu -only to be told that it was no longer a hotel !

Potlatch3

The Potlatch Club had plenty of famous guests – all treated with the same quiet privacy that all their guests enjoyed.  Richard Widmark, Raymond Burr, Rita Gam, Greta Garbo and perhaps most famously Paul McCartney came on his honeymoon with his first wife Linda in 1969

After Bill left the Potlatch Club in 1971 he began a long career as a very good painter and decorator – but that is for another blog !

Many thanks to Ros Seyfert from Haynes Library for the Potlatch Club brochure. What a treasure trove she has !

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38 thoughts on “Memories of the Potlatch Club in Eleuthera

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love history lessons retold from a human interest, more vibrant perspective! And love The Haynes Library, a treasure trove.

  2. Thank you so much for this blog! We have often wondered about the abandoned buildings. Now we know. My husband and I are headed down tomorrow and will and can hardly wait. We have a house in Rainbow Bay but I ran into you and your husband last January at Sky Beach. Maybe will see you again on the island. We both enjoy your blog. Thanks
    Shirley Pool

    1. So pleased you enjoy the blog – welcome back home and hope to bump into you again while you are here…..

  3. How about some photos of the place. Who owns it now? Can we access the beach from the property or is it unavailable. I’m headed down for my three week fall visit. Looking forward to exploring, if possible!!
    Thanks for the interesting blog.

    1. Some of the original property is occupied – watch this space for future news of it all …… I am not sure if you can see any of it from the beach – but as I say people are living in parts of it.

  4. Oh Kathy! What a swell job of researching and rendering Eleutheran history.
    I do hope you print out in paper your blog pages. Historically, paper seems preserved far longer than other means of conveyance. You are providing a good reference source.

  5. I remember growing up around Potlatch. Both of my parents worked there for many years (Fred/Lena Mingo). There are many fond memories from there with all of the staff especially from Palmetto Point and Governor’s Harbour. I am actually named after Diana Adams and Maria Fitzgerald. This evokes a lot of childhood memories. Thanks for the article. :-)

    1. How lovely to hear that – I know Bob was talking to Bill
      the other day about his time at Potlatch – it is so interesting for us to find all these stories out and begin to build a picture of how things were back then. So thrilled that you saw the blog and commented on it – thank you !

  6. How odd to have stumbled upon this blog. As a child, I stayed at the Potlatch Club with my mother as a guest of Peep Fitzgerald who had at one time been my piano teacher. Haven’t thought about the place in decades. May be time to revisit but am afraid that old adage “you can’t go back” would prove to be all too true.

    1. So pleased that you found it ! Eleuthera is still a very beautiful island and of course we absolutely love the Governors Harbour area….. Maybe if you visit it will remind you of happy memories – the beaches are still largely deserted – there are just so many stretches of beach that you hardly see anyone….. Thank you for making contact….

  7. My grandfather, Allen Sawer used to manage the Potlatch Club in Eleuthera. My favorite childhood memories are when my parents (Stephen & Sandy Sawer) where the Tennis pros at the Windermere Island Club and growing up in Eleuthera. Hope to move back one day!

    1. How great to hear this – so pleased you found the blog ! Any more memories would be great to share – or pictures……

    2. I remember Allen Sawer!!! And, I knew your parents at the Windermere Island Club! My husband and I stayed at Potlatch many times and even spent a Christmas in two of the houses after Joiner resided there. Then we joined the Windermere Island Club. We stayed at suite #90 and Cherokee for Christmases. Memories that will last forever! My husband passed away and not a day goes by that I don’t think of Eleuthera. I would live there if I knew someone now.

      1. I found this article on Eleuthera from a very old newspaper. Not sure how to post photos on this site of my grandparents Allen and Eileen Sawer when they managed it? I just traveled back to Eleuthera with my parents in February 2017 to get married and my dad was so happy to go back and spread their ashes on the island they once loved so much.
        Here’s the link: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=950&dat=19810630&id=sWdQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=clkDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7092,4693304&hl=en

        1. Thanks so much for this…. Just trying to figure out how to view the whole article at the moment…. It is always so lovely when someone pops up with something like this. And I love that your dad brought them back here…. Congratulations on your marriage and I hope that you come back again…..

        2. OMG, even my niece Avalon knows about this site?!! I just stumbled upon it looking for info about Potlatch and Windermere, trying desperately to recapture my gloriously misspent but now lost forever youth! Hahaha! When I headed out to Canada to start a different life, my parents Allen and Eileen Sawer told me that I would miss Eleuthera and The Bahamas and I snickered but guess what? They were even right about that, all these years later!

  8. At the outset, I want to thank Bob and Kathy Colman for researching my long lost youth at Potlatch Club. I remember Bill Burrows well and appreciate his often charitable recollections. To explain my arrival on this scene, I have to make one correction. Betty Taylor, Diana Adams, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and others were all initial explorers and investors… however, my mother Marie Driggs (not Marie Drakes) joined with Diana Adams and Liz Fitzgerald as initial investors.
    Two years ago my family surprised me with a return trip to Eleuthera for my 70th birthday I hope to return (Pineapple Fields) for my 40th anniversary in 2017.
    My own recollections of life at Potlatch could fill volumes. But the most appreciated comments come the families of the many wonderful people that did such a superb job of looking after Potlatch visitors and guests. On behalf of all the founders, I would like to offer a sincere thank you for past deeds and kind remembrances.
    I hope to see the remaining Potlatch family, their children and grandchildren on my return next year.

    1. How lovely to hear all this ….It is so important that the corrections are made while there are still people around with clear memories! Do please let us know when you return next year – it would be lovely to meet you….

    2. How lovely to hear this ! It is always a delight to me when we get replies like this – stirring up memories of happy times….. And thanks for the correction…. Do make contact when you come back again next year – kind regards Kathy

    3. Hello,
      I met your Mother, Diana and Liz in the late 1980’s and she was a delight and a very good hostess! I was visiting with Mary Henderson, my then Mother-in-law, who used to run the club some years before. I was married to her son, Alex. Mary treated us to a trip along with her Daughter, Mary Clair and her family as they spent so much of their youth on the Island.
      It is Alex’s birthday on 23 rd and I will be seeing all the family, despite being divorced years ago. They will be thrilled to hear from you so I will pass on details of this web site.
      I did go in search of the old club with my son, Edward, a few years ago when we were staying on Windermere. We searched through the undergrowth and had a good look at all the buildings . the kitchen looked like it had been left in the middle of cooking a meal!
      Great news that it has been bought and is being lovingly restored. I think I may plan another visit soon.
      Best wishes
      Penny Henderson now Knatchbull

      1. How lovely that this blog is now linking people up after a good few years ! I will post some more up to date pictures very soon. the restoration and renovation is coming along brilliantly !

  9. I have very fond memories of the Potlatch Club when, as a child, I visited with my family. Not mentioned in any of the info shared above is the name of the world-class (and personally high-class) chef Peter von Starck, who went on to create the restaurant that really sparked the restaurant renaissance of Philadelphia: La Panetiere.

    1. Thanks so much for this – no-one had told me about the chef so that is great to know. It is wonderful how comments pop up every now and again and another little gem of information comes to light ! I will ask Joy Pyfrom if she remembers the chef – she is 90 now and has lived here since 1945 ……

      1. This is wonderful – I am happy to drown in this not so ancient history ! I will ask Bill next time I see him about the place in Gregory Town…. And I am delighted that you are speaking and communicating with Hans from Potlatch – I know that he is so interested to find out the stories. Please do keep sending other memories as they occur to you. Kindest regards – Kathy

  10. Bob and Kathy Colman, I would like to add my thanks to you for making the time to chronicle some of the patchwork history of Potlatch Club. As mentioned, my mother, Marie Driggs was one of the three founders and it’s very interesting and gratifying to read some of the fond memories. It is also surprising to me how accurate most of recollections really are… including some that I had forgotten after spending nearly 15 years with Eleuthera in my blood.
    I have been providing the new Potlatch owners with some back ground stories and trying to convert some old pictures to to be media friendly.

    Some miscellaneous droppings:
    * As mentioned, Mr Bill Burrows recollections are amazingly accurate with the exception of my mother’s name, Marie Driggs. I remember Bill as a very kind, loyal and generous man who was a very important part of the warm welcome Potlatch tried to provide.
    * I enjoyed Susan Holt-Harris’ post about Elizabeth “Peep” Fitzgerald. She was indeed a world class pianist, made all the more impressive given that she was partially paralyzed as a youth. Peep often played for the guests when she had the strength to maneuver around the keyboard.
    * I enjoyed Avalon Sawer’s comment about his grandfather, Allen Sawer. I remember Allen as a caring, giving, down to earth guy who was a refreshing change from the often overwhelming guest roster.
    * Peter Von Stark was more than an excellent world class chef, for a good many years he was the main draw for Potlatch guests. The ambiance and physical location helped but Peter had a master touch as head chef. Peter also prepared food during the “off season” at other places the “Triumvirate” owned in Saratoga New York and Mallorca, Spain..
    As I believe Haynes library has on record, the 3 owners also had a small restaurant in Gregory Town called the “Talking Dolphin” which welcomed all but was enjoyed by Potlatch guests during day trips . They had stand alone ovens and I still remember the scent of fresh baked bread.
    Sorry , to drown you with ancient history but it is your fault! … you have brought back many wonderful memories.

    1. I don’t know how to post them but I have numerous pictures of myself as a little blonde boy devouring coconut cream pie at the Talking Dolphin in Gregory Town, it was my favorite dessert to order there! My father, Allen Sawer, used to drive me through Hatchet Bay, past Sweeting’s Pond and into Gregory Town and we always ended up there. Other fond memories are riding my little tricycle all over Potlatch, hanging out with the staff at the laundry and garden nursery and visiting a local family named Nixon who some distance away, just off of Banks Road. I also remember meeting Broadway star Mary Martin and Maria Shriver at Potlatch Club in the sixties!

  11. Thanks for the wonderful memories! My father Allen Sawer ran the Potlatch Club during the sixties and I lived there with him, my mother Eileen and brother Steve. We survived the devastation wrought by hurricane Betsy in 1965 by seeking refuge in the art gallery which had a bedroom and was solid and stable. We also knew Billy very well, such a happy and delightful person and also those ladies who you mentioned. My father left in 1968 to manage the Windermere Island Club, some distance away. I cherish my memories of the sixties, like The Beatles, Potlatch/Windermere and movies at Arthur Rolle’s theatre in Governors Harbour!

  12. Hello, I found this blog today when I googled “Fred Mingo Eleuthera” because my husband and I (Vincent Dyckman and Caroline Andrus) wanted to see if we could contact Fred to see how he fared through the terrible devastating hurricane, Dorian! I was really happy to find this blog and, especially, the history of Potlatch Club. First, hello Diana Mingo! Second, if anyone can tell us news of our friends in Palmetto Point, we would love to hear at carolineandrus@gmail.com.

    My husband’s father, Vincent Andrus, was a visitor to Potlatch Club during the 1960s and also family friends with Diana Adams and her sister Muriel. My husband purchased the house in Palmetto Point that was part of Potlatch Club and where Paul and Linda McCartney spent their honeymoon. Fred did a complete renovation of the house and became a dear friend, along with his wife Lena. When I went to spend our first winter together in Eleuthera when the house was just finished (1980), Fred and Lena brought over a calendar and insisted we set a date for our wedding which, naturally, we did. Fred attended our wedding in Connecticut. Shirley and Sherman were also fixtures at Potlatch. But this was long ago….

    We owned the house until 1990 and brought our little daughters down there for extended winter weeks, Kingsley Sands was our caretaker and his daughter in law cared for our little girls. Addie Culmer took care of the house. There are so many memories, including evenings at Potlatch with Diana and Liz and Marie and Betty Taylor before they sold it. Also Diana’s twin, Muriel who had a house there for some time. Betty Taylor, who knew Dyck’s father from Eleuthera, eventually insisted that we move near her town in Southfield, Mass and found us a house in Norfolk, CT. We are still there 34 years later and Betty was a dear friend until she died.

    There is actually so much more to this story, but I write all the above details simply to add to the interesting stories I’ve read above….though they date from 2015.

    Our hearts go out to all in the Bahamas who have endured the wrath of Dorian. It is devastating!

    1. Such a lovely message to receive. And so full of memories ….. I will see if I can get a number for Fred for you…. I am pretty sure that his wife Lena died a little while ago. Let me see what I can do. We dodged a bullet with Dorian – just some wind and rain – but sadly of course Andros and Grand Bahama bore the terrible brunt of it….

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