The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

“Brother’s Place”

Image (1169)SabaTreasure2Chris&MarvysabatsPeter Anthony Hassell was born right here on Saba on Friday January 6th 1903. His parents were Gustave Emile Hassell and Lottie May Johnson. He was a lifelong bachelor and spent most of his life on Saba except for a short time that he went to Aruba in search of work. He was a brother of the famous Josephus Lambert Hassell who engineered the road that could not be built on Saba. For perhaps this reason Peter Anthony was known to all as “Brother”.

Most of his life he had a “Rumshop” in the building where the Trail Shop is now located. He also sold some groceries. I knew him from a young boy and we became good friends. After my school years on Curacao and when I started to work on St. Maarten in 1960 I would always visit him when on Saba. If he needed any help with preparing documents or changing expired banknotes at the Central Bank on Curacao I was the person he confided in.
To everyone’s surprise in 1964 Brother decided to build a solid two story building on the main road in the heart of Windwardside.The building is from poured concrete so quite solid construction. Among those who worked on the building was Mr. Emanuel Baker of The Bottom, Peddy Johnson, John Henry Hassell and others from the village of Hell’s Gate. Back in 1964 five guilders a day was considered a good days pay as there was very little work to be had. As a matter of fact most of the young men from Saba would have to go to St. Maarten to look for work. After the WIPM party was elected in 1971 things changed and there was work for everyone on Saba up until now. Work for everyone with the government and the private sector was and is still dependent on labour from outside the island to take care of the private sector needs.

Image (1167)When “Brothers Place” was finished he moved in the upstairs part where friends could come and sit with him in his living room and discuss the news of the day. To everyone’s great surprise when I was running for the position of Senator for the Windward Island’s in 1969 “Brother” gave permission for the U.R.A. party to hold a public meeting on his porch for a visiting group of my supporters from St. Eustatius to deliver powerful speeches to the people of Saba on my behalf. At the time I was living on St. Maarten. In the elections of 1971 and so on he allowed my WIPM party to hold our public political rallies from his porch. As he got older I told him that Eugenius Johnson had given us permission to keep our meetings at his place and that there would be no need to bother him anymore.

When he became ill he called my brother Eric and told him that he wanted me to have his place. Eric felt that I should not accept it and get in between him and the children of his brother and left it at that.

When he passed on his sister gave the property to a friend of the family who then sold it to a lawyer from Canada who had his offices in the Turks and Caicos islands. It was rented out to medical students. After some time the building was closed down, but only after the roof had been repaired following damage by hurricane Louis in 1995.

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Some years later I was looking for a place where my children could start a business. One night I was walking through Windwardside and I saw a sign on the building stating that it was for sale. I knew that Mr. Frank Hassell was in charge. Lo and behold when I turned the corner to go in the direction of “Under-The-Hill” who did I butt up into was Mr. Frank Hassell himself. I asked him about the building and he confirmed that it was for sale and then said:”Are you interested in buying?” I told him that if the price was right I might be. The next day when I was coming up from the office I saw that the For Sale sign was gone. That night I phoned Mr. Frank and expressed my surprise. He confirmed that “yes the building had been sold”. When asked to who it had been sold he said: “To you of course. All kinds of people want to buy it but I told them that you had gone behind my back and bought it. But I know that “Brother” wanted you to have it and so I feel I am complying with his wishes.” Then he went on to give me what I considered was the bad news. He said:”Mind you I have not had any contact with the owners for some years. So what you have to do is check on that thing they call the Internet and find them.” I thought the whole thing was hopeless and weeks went by and I did nothing about it. One day when I came home from the office I needed to look for an important document in my home office.

Image (958)Years before I had met the owner of Brothers Place and he had given me a card of his. When I was going through the mess of unorganized papers on my desk a card fell out and dropped at my feet. I was not planning to pick it up as I was in a hurry to get the document I was looking for and to head back down to the office. Something told me to pick up the business card lying on the ground and so I picked it up. And it was the business card of the owner of “Brother’s Place”. Again I thought I will try and call him one of these days. But again there was a sense of urgency that I should call immediately. On the first try I must have dialed one number wrong. I got some man in the Dominican Republic who on learning that I was calling from the Netherlands Antilles immediately started offering me women for sale, the younger the age the higher the price. I had to tell him” man even with a wrong call you are trying to sell your women to me, shame on you”. After I hung up the phone, something told me to try the number one more time. I did and the office in Turks and Caicos answered. When I asked for the person I wanted to talk to the Secretary said to me:”How do you know he is here?” I said to her:”This is his office isn’t it?” She said: “Not really, he sold it several years ago, and he is here today from England, BUT ONLY FOR TODAY, and he and I are wondering how did you know he is here?” When he came on the line I told him my reason for calling. We agreed on a price, but then came the problem. He said he had been through a messy divorce and he and the wife were not on any kind of terms much less good ones. I got the wife’s address from him and I started to work on her. After I told her what I wanted to do with the building she agreed to both the price and for me to have it. We were talking about a date for the purchase so that I could arrange a loan with the Windward Islands Bank. She said:”Do you want me to make a suggestion?” I told her to go ahead, and she said:”What about September 22nd”? I said to her, that is as good a date as any;”You would not know this, but that is not only my birthday, but that of my wife as well and we got married on that date.” She could not believe it and said:”Mr. Johnson I can see that your destiny calls for you to own that building.” And so after getting the loan from Windward Islands Bank I went ahead and bought the building.Image (762)

I had to attend my son Chris’ wedding in the United States. Before I bought the building I did not ask to see it or anything. When I came back I was so busy at the office I had no time to think about anything. One day Mr. Frank called me and said: “Mr. Will are you not interested in seeing what you bought?” We agreed that the next afternoon on my way home from work I would stop there and take a look. I was more than surprised to see that the place was fully furnished to overflowing into the garage with good quality furniture. Mr. Frank had to go to church, and so I stayed back and sat in the living room upstairs where many times I had visited with “Brother”, and then I noticed that I was sitting in the usual visitors seat and suddenly I felt “Brother’s” presence sitting in his regular seat. I could feel a happy presence and that he was glad that in accordance with his original wishes I now at last owned the building.

28155_10200693509527490_263332032_nIt was a surreal experience but considering all that went on before then pointed in the direction that I should have the place, I did not question destiny and started making plans for the future.

Much can be known about a person from their interests, their assets, including their buildings. Downstairs “Brother” had his rumshop and grocery store and my son thought we should go in the restaurant business. And the restaurant like my house looked like a museum when you walked in.We opened it on February 20th, 2004. Also in the garage I found a barrel of lime which he had made by the sea here on Saba. My father used to burn lime down on the Cove Bay when I was a small boy. Brother always planned to make an old time oven with that lime. There was an old one at “Behind The Ridge” above the old sulphur mine where I was born and which belonged to my grandfather Daniel. I arranged with Ernest Hassell to take it down bring it to Brother’s Place use the barrel of lime and set up the oven outside the kitchen which he did andhe has also baked a number of suckling pigs in that old oven. Brother would be happy that his barrel of lime was put to a good use. That is how we started Saba’s Treasure and the artist Robbie Lynn designed it as the inside of an old pirate ship and the business was started up and run by Chris and his wife Marvi. However when he was elected in 2007 we decided to rent it in 2008 to my nephew Greg for five years. In 2013 he gave notice that he would not renew the informal rental agreement so we started to look around for someone who would want to invest in upgrading the downstairs of the building with a view to continue with the restaurant. There will be a name change and the restaurant will be opened soon. I thought I would use this opportunity to tell the story of the building and to post a series of photo’s with 934810_10200821684451783_1798588805_nthis article showing the building as it used to be and the changes being made. For years I was looking for a photo of “Brother” and then out of the blue, Mr. Peter Arnold (owner of the trail shop and Brother’s old  rum shop and grocery) informed me that he had found a photo with “Brother” and his sisters and his brother Lambert, so this is a good opportunity to post these photo’s as well.2007-09-14 23.43.59

Each building has its own history and for me this building has a particularly special history and I thought I should share it as even though I have told this unusual story to many people I have never written anything about it until now how I acquired the ownership of the property.

Special thanks to Mr. Frank Hasssell who knew of “Brother’s” wish and who assisted in making that wish become a reality.

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