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
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.