National Geographic : 1968 Jan
Unbridled joy erupts as resi dents of St. Croix march through Christiansted on Transfer Day, March 31. Last year it marked the 50th anniversary of U. S. purchase of the islands from Denmark during World War I, a step taken to protect sea lanes to the Panama Canal. untouched. This time, as I crossed Pillsbury Sound on my way to St. John, I looked back toward St. Thomas and saw a dramatic change. Houses were scattered everywhere on the hillsides. Subdivision projects pat terned the promontories with roads, and the ranch-style dwellings that are the stamp of 20th-century America were mushrooming into suburban communities. By contrast, as I looked over the bow of Sea Saga, a diesel cruiser I had chartered, St. John arose green and unspoiled. There is a small town at Cruz Bay, a typical West Indian village around a snug harbor protected by a toy fortress, but elsewhere St. John, with a mere 1,500 inhabitants, remains much as it existed centuries ago. I climbed a hill that looks down on the mul ticolored shallows of Maho Bay. Across a blue channel the peaks of St. Thomas turned faintly purple in the sunset. Around me the wooded island seemed never to have known the print of a human foot. But suddenly a lady with a hibiscus blossom in her hair ap peared on the path below me, fol lowed by a peacock in full plum age. I had come to visit Island Fancy, the home of "Grandma" McCully, but for a moment I thought I had wandered into the Garden of Eden. Soon I was sitting in an airy gallery, learning the story of Mrs. Ethel Walbridge McCully. "It was a case of love at first sight," she said. "I came down from New York for a vacation. In St. Thomas I bought a ticket on a native boat going to Tortola. When we passed this bay, I didn't want to go any farther. I asked the captain to put me ashore, but he said his clearance papers didn't permit him to touch American soil again. So I said, 'Let me off on PHI IETY that rock and I'll swim.' " That is just what Grandma did. She was able to buy land on St. John, because the national park there was not yet established. After four years of travail with an unskilled architect (herself) and even more unskilled labor, she built her dream house, Island Fancy. Construction was delayed by such problems as a donkey eating the blueprints. The experi ence proved so frustrating but amusing that it inspired her to write a book, which she dedicated to her seventh grandchild.* As we watched the extravaganza of sunset from her gallery, Grandma showed me a tile inscribed with her philosophy of life: "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and after doing nothing, to rest." Although this might not be a fitting motto for St. Croix or bustling St. *Grandma Raised the Roof, by Ethel Walbridge McCully, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1954.