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Bimini's Heritage Centre  Bimini Bahamas           


In the early 1920s when Bimini was the centre of the Bahamian rum running trade a young American adventurer came upon the island. He was from a wealthy American coal mining family and he had no interest in the bounty to be made from rum running. Rather, his interest was in fishing.
Van Campen Heilner came from Philadelphia. He had been sailing through the Bahamas and found Bimini a fascinating place. He built a small camp on the northern end of north Bimini and later acquired land and built a small house there. The house was destroyed by developers in the early 2000s. However, the young Heilner who had made a name for himself in sporting magazines for his articles on fishing found in Bimini his true delight -- the bonefish. Heilner spent endless days on the Bimini flats catching the elusive bonefish. In his 1937 classic fishing book, SALT WATER FISHING he expounds on the wonders of Bimini and its magnificent bonefishing opportunities.  However, at first he kept silent. Heilner also notes that one day while on the western side of Bimini in his small boat he noticed a large object in the sea that was not a shark. Anxious to learn what the creature was he soon learned that it was a blue marlin, a fish not believed to be in these waters. He kept silent  fearing the news that Bimini was a rich fishing ground would attract Florida land speculators and unsavoury  characters to
the island he cherished.

Eventually, Heilner began to tell people. He invited Detroit industrialist George Albert Lyon to visit the small island and experience the fishing. Lyon came to the island and fell in love with Bimini. He eventually bought the entire north end of north Bimini and built a small house and later in 1953 would build a $2 million mansion. But, he loved the bonefishing and even moreso the thought of landing marlin and tuna. Lyon, who invented the clip to keep hub caps on car tyres and numerous other inventions sold much of his manufacturing product to General Motros. consequently executives from GM frequented the island for fishing and relaxing including the legendary Harley Earl, designer of the Corvette and  Buick and Cadillac.

George Albert Lyon would become one of the islands greatest benefactors. Exceedingly generous and anxious to train Biminites to earn a living through various trades he trained people on his property in mechanics, electrical systems and even farming. Each Christmas he would give each school child a US $1 bill which was a considerable sum in the 1950s. George Lyon also encouraged William Butler, a young Biminite to take boxing seriously. In the 1950s with Lyon's sponsorship William "Yama Bahama" Butler became one the best known names in American boxing losing fewer than 10 fights in a career that last several years. George Lyon's massive art deco mansion at northern tip of North Bimini which he called Paradise Point was a landmark until it was torn down in 2006 to make way for a new resort development.

George Lyon's mansion at Paradise Point. Built in 1953 it was demolished in
in 2006 to make way for the Biini Bay Resort on north Bimini.

In 1933 S Kip Farrington, Jr an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for railroading also, heard that Bimini was a new fishing ground. On Februiary 28, 1933 he landed Bimini's first recorded blue marlin. Within a few weeks others landed similar catches. The news was out. Bimini was the hot spot for Atlantic sport fishing. Farrington was an editor and contributor to Field and Stream magazine. He quickly publicised his catches and those of others as well.

Farrington is seen here with his wife, Chisie, also a famous anger. Kneeling is Guide Tommy Gifford, the most famous of the early guides who invented the "outrigger".
This tuna was caught off Bimini and was weighed at Weech's Dock.

Michael Lerner was a businessman who, together with his brothers, started the Lerner Shops in the United States. These up-scale dress shops fro women provided a good income for Lerner who began to spend more time fishing than helping to operate the family business. Mike Lerner had a keen passion for marine science. In love with the sea and the creatures who made it their home he undertook several scientific expeditions to various places around the world. He also underwrote several other expeditions for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His association with this famous institution would remain strong until the end of his life in  the 1980s.

Michael Lerner and his wife, Helen (also a passionate angler) came to Bimini and found it an amazing place for fishing. They landed many a catch of tuna and marlin and swordfish. So impressed with Bimini the Lerner s bought land and built a magnificent home on North Bimini. Named "The Anchorage" it is today a restaurant and guest house.
Lerner would eventually establish a marine laboratory on Bimini which operated between 1948 and 1974. The Lerner Marine Laboratory was among the world's foremost research centres. He also principally founded the International Game Fish Association which set down the rules for sport fishing. The IGFA remains the world's conscience for sport fishing rules, regulations and techniques. It also promotes conservation. It is also the authority concerning world record catches. Bimini continues to hold several world record catches including records for bonefish, white marlin and several other species.

In 1935 American author Ernest Heimngway came to Bimini for the summer months to write but more to fish. Crossing the Gulf Stream in his boat, "PILAR", Hemingway tied up at Brown's Dock and began the first of three summers he would spend on Bimini.  Hemingway would later win both a Pulitzer Prize for literature and the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature. His books Islands in The Stream and Old Man and The Sea are based on experiences in Bimini and in Cuba. Hemingway wrote numerous magazine articles for Esquire while on Bimini and worked his novel, To Have And Have Not.  While his reputation as a writer was solid his reputation as a big game angler began to grow. He landed many large tuna and marlin. And when he wasn't fishing or writing...or drinking....he was staging boxing matches with the locals. He would pay $100 to any Biminite who could go a few rounds with him. He never had to pay it out. Hemingway at first lived on his boat. He later moved to a small cottage near Brown's Dock and eventually took a room at the COMPLEAT ANGLER HOTEL. Operated by Helen Duncombe, widow of the rum-running era island commissioner, Helen Ducombe and her two daughters built the hotel from the remnants of the old liquor barges in the Bimini harbour. It was 1935 when she opened her new hotel (an earlier one "Dower House" burned down). The hotel became a focal point for Biminites and visitors alike for decades. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire in 2006. Hemingway stayed in Room Number 1.

Hemingway and Maine artist Henry "Mike" Strater examine a marlin which was mutilated by a shark. Strater died in 1987


Named after English writer Izzak Walton's famous book on fishing, The Compleat Angler, the hotel opened in 1935. Helen Duncombe and her two daughters and son would operate the business until 1973 when Mrs Duncombe would sell it to Biminite Harcourt Brown.  She travelled to England and lived there for her remaining years.

Mrs Duncombe did not tolerate slackness or boisterous behaviour. However, it seemed the Ernest Hemingway was in her good books and they manitained a warm relationship for many years.Mrs Duncombe was from England and married her Bahamian husband in the early 1900s. They were posted to Bimini in 1926 where Mr Duncombe was island commissioner. He died in 1933 and his grave can be found in Bimini's Southern Cemetery. Following his death Mrs Duncombe decided to remain in Bimini and raise her two girls and son on the island. She was very much acticve in every aspect of community life. She became a towering figure in the community. She was honoured by Queen Elizabeth with the "Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour". She also served as a nurse, which was her profession. She encouraged young people to learn a trade and to develop good reading and writing skills. She trained many young people to serve in her hotel as waiters and chambermaids. She was generous and
kind-hearted though strict when necessary.

The "Angler" was the centre of the island's life for many years. Mrs Duncombe used the abandoned wood from the liquor barges in the harbour to construct much of the hotel. The bar was supported by empty rum barrels from the rum running era. From 1973 until its destruction by fire in 2006, it was the chief night spot on the island. Operated by Ossie Brown it was an iconic symbol of Bimini itself. Many well known personalities passed thorugh the hotel's bar and dance floor over the years including noted entertainer Jimmy Buffet. The hotel was destroyed by fire on Jauary 13, 2006. Sadly, Julian Brown, the family care-taker of the property who was also an Olympic athlete was killed in the blaze.

Hemingway (left) with Helen and Mike Lerner in the centre, stand on Weech's Dock in Bimini after a day's fishing. Four massive blue marlins were landed on July 4, 1936.

Mike and Helen Lerner built "The Anchorage" as a seasonal home. Built on the western shore of Bimini in 1935 the house is featured prominently in the opening lines of Hemingway's, Islands in The Stream. Today, the home is a restaurant and guest house. The building to the left, barley seen, is the Methodist Church, which also is still standing.

 Word spread very quickly that Bimini was the place to land record fish. Tuna, marlin, swordfish, sailfish -- all were in Bimini and in large numbers. Hemingway's writings in Esquire magazine promoted both the sport and Bimini. Kip Farrington wrote many times in Field and Stream magazine about Bimini's place as the sport fishing captial of the world. Farrington landed several record catches as did Hemingway. The great author was the first person to land an unmutilated tuna on the docks at Bimini. While Farrington landed the first marlin in 1933 which weighed fewer than 200 lbs within a month Anne Moore of New York landed a 500lb marlin.  While anglers were trolling the deep for the big fish others came to Bimini to try for the "silver fox" of the flats -- the bonefish. Soon world records for all kinds of fish were being made at Bimini.



This new resource helped put Bimini back into prosperity. Marinas were needed, hotels and restaurants were also needed and soon they were being built. Brown's dock and Weech's dock were the first built. The Bimini Big Game fishing Club would open in 1948. The Sea Crest would open in the late 1930s. Local men learned how to be guides and how to bait  and land fish. Manny Rolle, who would become a great Bimini guide in the 50s through the 70s began as Hemingway's chairboy in 1935.   Bob Smith would also learn his guiding and boating skills from the famed Cass brothers of the Floirda keys. Bonefish guides such as Sammy Ellis and Willie Duncombe and Ansil Saunders would make bonefishing their life's work. Saunders would eventually land a world record fish. These men also trained others to pole the flats for the elusive fish.  Over the years many world record catches for bonefish would be taken at Bimini and several records still stand.

Bonefish guide Sammy Ellis


Bonefish Sam with pioneer bonefisherman Van Campen Heilner, the father of bonefishing in Bimini.    




Looking north from Weech's Dock towards the Compleat Angler Hotel in background. The peaked building on the left is the Bimini Museum then the government offices. Photo was taken in 1937.

Looking south with the Government building on the right. (now the Bimini Museum)  The tallest of the buildings was the fountain of Youth bar owned by Bruce Bethel but purchased by Bahamian businessman Neville Stuart. It would become the orginal Big Game Fishing Club in 1947.

On the right is the government building which is now the museum. In the centere is "Pa Johnny's" shop operated by John Roberts, Sr. The Roberts family continues to own this property. The occasion for the photograph is the march of the Baptist SChurch Sunday School.

Baptist Church Sunday School girls stand before the Commissioner's Office, which is now the Bimini Museum.

A Bimini house.

WORLD WAR II  1939-1945
The outbreak of wolrd War II in 1939 affected The Bahamas as a British colony. Immediately The Bahamas was at war with Germany. Many young men from Bimini and throughout the colony enlisted in the Bahamas Batallion or others in the Royal Canadian Air Force or Royal Air Force. With The Bahamas at war rationing became common place. German submarines sank shipping off the American coast at Miami and this impacted Bimini greatly. With America's entry into the war in 1941 the big game sport fisherman put aside their rods and reels for better days. Bimini was in a slump again.
however, the war ended in Europe in May 1945 and all German hostile activity came to a close. Soon, with the defeat of the Japanese Empire in August 1945 the horrors of World war II came to a close.
Sport fishing resumed with a passion even greater than before the war.

Bimini continued to be recoginsed as the Sport fishing Capital of the World and hundreds of anglers from America and throughout the world came to fish at Bimini. And few anglers were disappointed as many world record catches continued to be landed. Bimini was booming.


In the 1930s,40s, 50s and into the early 1960s tuna fishing was conducted on a grand scale at Bimini. Cat Cay, the exclusive private island to the south of Bimini, hosted the world famous Cat Cay Tuna Tournaments that saw hundreds of great tuna landed and world records caught.  This video depicts well known 1950s angler George Bass fighting a tuna at Bimini.



Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish were the great trophy fish that could also be landed in Bimini. With fish conservation not the passion it is today, many hundreds of tuna and other game fish would be landed on Bimini's docks. Eventually, through education and the efforts of the IGFA , sportsfishermen began to catch and release these great  fish. Today, the number of Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish found off Bimini is slim and a tuna is a rare catch. A far cry from just  fifty years ago.  The following video depicts 1950s angler George Bass landing a marlin off Bimini. 

But, the sportfishing industry caused hotels and marinas to be built and expanded. Jobs became available in the growing hospitality industry and young men from Bimini began to learn the art of piloting and guiding. Sportfishing was a boon for Bimini.

The Scarlet Dolphin was popular shop in the 1950s and 60s offering British linens and nik-naks and various souvenirs. Its unique trademark was the palm tree which grew through the roof. The place was eventually torn down and a modern building put in its place. Today, Captain Bob's restaurant is located on this spot.

In the 1960s and 70s anglers from all over the world came to fish the waters at Bimini in the many tournaments were held throughout the year. Others simply came to fish. World records were caught at Bimini also. TRhe Sea Crest Hotel, the Bimini Big Game Club, Brown's Marina and the Bimini Blue Water Resort boomed as fisherman made Bimini their choice for deep sea sport fishing. Bimini's brand as the "Big Game Fishing Captial of The World" was not disputed.

During American prohibition 1919-1933 a Bahamian liquor merchant, Bruce Bethel, purchaed the Sapona -- a World War One Liberty ship. He brought it to Bimini and used it as a floating warehouse for liquor that would await smuggling into the United States. He also purchased land in Bimini and built the "Foutain of Youth" bar and nightclub. Bethel however lost his fortune in the great hurricane of 1926. He never recovered financially and over the following years his mental health deteriorated. He died a pauper in Nassau in 1950.
However in the early 1930s, from Nassau, came Bahamian Neville Stuart, who purcahased Bethel's "Fountain of Youth" bar and nightclub. He also built a small hotel called "Anchor's Aweigh". He too saw that sport fishing would be Bimini's economic mainstay in the future. He encouraged tournaments in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. However, the Second World War curtailed the sport fishing business but by 1946 Bimini was back in as the fishing capital of the world. In 1947 he opened the Big Game Fishing Club. In the 1960s he would open a marina on reclaimed land from the sea and expand that facility which would eventually become the current Bimini Big Game Fishing Club. Stuart would later sell his interest in the property to the Bacardi Rum company. It changed hands several times since then and is currently a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort.


While Mrs Helen Duncombe was operating the Compleat Angler Hotel and Neville Stuart was developing the Fountain of Youth, the Anchors Aweigh Hotel and eventually Big Game Resort, Mamie Newbold began her small hotel in the early 1930s called :Sea Crest".  Still operating today, Mamie's hotel has greatly expanded. A fire destroyed the original building but it was re-built.  Mamie Newbold and Helen Duncombe are credited with being pioneers in Bimini's tourism and hospitality industry.

In the 1950s an American developer, Colonel Joseph Mackey was operating an airline service between Miami and Bimini--- "Mackey Airlines".  Seeing the need for a place for visitors on South Bimini he purchased a large tract of land and began to develop "Port Royale". Included in his vision was a hotel which he named  "Sunshine Inn". Today, part of the hotel remains as the "Bimini Beach Club". The hotel was destroyed in a hurricane in 2004. His community of Port Royale thrives with homeowners from all over the world enjoying South Bimini's ameneties. While the original shopping centre, filling station and church are long long, the community of Port Royale is serviced by several stores and shops operated by Bahamians on South Bimini.



















































































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