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Trunk Bay Ruin

History of Trunk Bay
Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track © 2006 Gerald Singer

The Amerindian inhabitants of St. John, known as the Tainos, established a village at Trunk Bay around 700 AD, which lasted until about 900 AD, when they apparently left in a hurry, evidenced by the archeological find of abandoned cooking pots still filled with food.

In colonial times, Trunk Bay was operated as a sugar estate and prospered until shortly after the emancipation of the slaves, when the entire island underwent a period of economic decline.

In the late 1920s Paul Boulon Sr. used to visit St. John from his home in Puerto Rico. While there he often spent time at the Fishing Club at Denis Bay, which is described by Desmond Holdbridge in his book Escape to the Tropics, written in 1937 as “a quaint institution, now non-existent, where no fishing was ever done.” It was during a Fishing Club get-together that he learned that Trunk Bay and 100 additional acres of land were for sale for $2500.

Paul and his wife, Erva bought the property and built a house on the hill overlooking the eastern end of the beach where they and their four children would spend their summer vacations there. One of the family’s favorite activities was to explore the bay and the little caves around Trunk Cay in their genuine “Old Town” canoe that they had specially sent down from Maine.

The house went unoccupied for several years around the time of World War II. In 1947, Mrs. Boulon and her son Paul returned to St. John, fixed up the house and opened a small hotel that attracted the more adventurous New York literati, journalists, psychoanalysts, theater people and even vacationing FBI agents.

The actors, Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, and the nuclear scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, were frequent guests.

John Dos Pasos, whose books include, Manhattan Transfer, USA Trilogy, Adventures of a Young Man and Orient Express, met and wooed his wife at the Boulon’s guest house, on Trunk Bay, an appropriate venue for this famous author who once summed up his life’s works as “man’s struggle for life against the strangling institutions he himself creates.”

John Gunther, author of such works as Inside Europe, Inside Asia, Inside Latin America, Inside U.S.A., Inside Africa, Inside Russia, Inside Europe, Inside South America, and Inside Australia also vacationed with the Boulons at Trunk Bay. As there was no good road to Trunk Bay at the time, he arrived by sea and came ashore in a dinghy along with his entourage and his luggage. When the dinghy reached the beach, the Boulon’s hotel staff offloaded the luggage and helped the dinghy passengers ashore. Gunther insisted on personally carrying his briefcase, which contained the notes for his work Inside Africa. As he was exiting the craft, he fell into the water causing someone to remark that “Trunk Bay is now Inside Gunther.”

In 1958, The Boulons sold Trunk Bay to Laurance Rockefeller, with the exception of their houses and property on the hillside and small beach on the eastern headland of the bay. Rockefeller then donated this land and most of his other St. John holdings to the National Park. During the ten years that the Boulons operated their quaint pension at Trunk Bay, it was said there were rarely more than five or six people on the beach.

Today during peak season, Trunk Bay may have around 1000 visitors per day including locals, cruise ship passengers, party boats, and tourists from the island's villas and hotels.

Nonetheless, you can still enjoy Trunk Bay in its pristine state as long as you can do without amenities such as life guards, snack bars, shops and showers. All you have to do is arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The Boulon Family (A Summary of the Presentation by SJHS Board Member Rafe Boulon) By Vicki Bell, Secretary