ABACO’S ‘HOLE-IN-THE-WALL’ BEFORE SANDY DEMOLITION: FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES


ABACO’S HOLE-IN-THE-WALL BEFORE HURRICANE SANDY DESTRUCTION

THE FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES OF A GEOGRAPHICAL LANDMARK

This post follows on directly from my PREVIOUS POST about Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of Abaco’s Hole-in-the -Wall rock ‘bridge’. Thanks to Abaco resident Jack Bowers, his camera and his kind permission, I am able to show what are almost certainly the very first and the very last pictures of Abaco’s Hole in the Wall aka ‘Hole in the Rock’, the landmark rock formation at the southeastern tip of the island.

THE EARLIEST KNOWN PICTURE OF HOLE-IN-THE-WALL

The earliest picture that I have been able to trace is a fine nautical aquatint dated 1803 by J.Wells based on a shipman’s sketch. There’s more detail about it in the previous post, but for the full details of this picture, its origin, and a very early description of  one of Abaco’s best-known features CLICK HOLE-IN-THE-WALL AQUATINT 

THE LAST PICTURES EVER TAKEN OF THE HOLE IN THE WALL, ABACO

Jack Bowers and some friends visited Hole-in-the-Wall a week before Hurricane Sandy swept in from the south. He writes “I hiked all around (and foolishly IN) the Hole on 10/17/12, a week before its demise. I may have the last photos taken of various aspects of it, if needed. I noticed some serious cracks (mostly on the proximal side of the arch) and placed my feet carefully away from them, but the collapse did not seem this imminent. I also shot some nice shots of the lighthouse from the distal point of the rocks (a shot not easily obtainable now). Trying to find a positive, the new “Window” should provide some spectacular new splashes that the arch used to largely contain”. Please note that the very fine photos below are all ©Jack Bowers

The ‘Land’s End’ promontory of Abaco, taken from the lighthouse station. The Hole is (was) near the tip.

Looking back to the lighthouse on the hike south

Rough seas ahead…  foreshadowing the later rock destruction                

A last view of ‘Hole in the Wall’ as it used to look….     

The dramatic view from below the arch – it will never be seen like this again…

ABACO’S CHANGED GEOGRAPHY AS FROM 10.24.12 FOR ALL ETERNITY

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: LATE PLEISTOCENE EPOCH to LATE OCTOBER 2012

Very soon after these photos were taken, the history of the Hole and the geography of Abaco abruptly changed. The weather worsened, Tropical Storm Sandy gathered strength north of Cuba to reach hurricane force, and a week later the rock arch had been simply smashed into the boiling sea by the combined power of wind and the water. It seems unlikely that in the intervening week, with a major storm approaching, anyone else will have made the long rough drive 15 miles along the track to the lighthouse, traversed the difficult terrain of the promontory, risked the increasing winds and swelling seas, and calmly toted a camera at the underside of the arch. So unless and until I hear otherwise, I shall consider Jack’s pictures to be the final record of an Abaco landmark known to sailors for many centuries, mapped by name since 1738 (or earlier), first depicted in 1803 and probably in existence since the last ice-age. R.I.P. (Rest in Pieces)

AFTERWORD: DOES THIS SORT OF THING HAPPEN OFTEN ON ABACO?

Yes. As elsewhere in the Bahamas or indeed any hurricane zone. Here’s an example from last year demonstrating the power of Hurricane Irene, which also scored a direct hit on Abaco. The top photo is a shot of the Delphi Club beach at Rolling Harbour looking south, taken by me in early 2011. I have cropped it to enlarge the view of the large rock in the sea beyond the small bay on the middle left. It’s a substantial, solid, slab visible at all tides.

Hurricane Irene passed directly overhead on August 26 / 27 2011. Here’s my photo taken this year, showing the rock with the centre blasted out during the storm. Impressive damage! (That little piece of foreshore needs a clean-up… most of that stuff looks like plastic junk / nylon rope etc, the sort of detritus that takes a mere century or three to degrade…)

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK


HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL

HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK

A ‘heads-up’ from the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST shows the devastating power of a hurricane-force wind, even at Cat 1 level. After centuries, the eponymous Hole-in-the-Wall has been blasted by Sandy into a Gap-in-the-Wall. Abaco has acquired a new islet, as yet to be named (I propose ‘Sandy Isle’… Or maybe ‘Storm Rock’). The photo below is by Justin Sands, and shows the new view of the southeastern extremity of Abaco. There was until recent times a very similar rock formation on Eleuthera, the Glass Window. It, too, was smashed by a storm and a new road bridge had to be built to link the separated parts (see end of post for image).

This is what the same view looked like until last week, with the ‘bridge’ still standing

Here is a very good close shot by well-known and all-knowing Abaco nature guide Ricky Johnson. There won’t be any more photos like this now… You can see what a large amount of combined wind and wave force it must have taken to blow the bridge apart.

The landmark lighthouse and defunct outbuildings at Hole-in-the-Wall sit just north of a promontory, a sort of Land’s End jutting into the ocean between Abaco and New Providence. The road to it is 15 miles of deteriorating surface through the pine forest of the National Park, and is not for the faint-hearted… see TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

A while ago I traced the history of Abaco, and in particular Hole-in-the-Wall, in maps. I got back as far as 1584 for Abaco itself, a map by Ortelius where Abaco appears as ‘Haraco’ and the geographical relationships are… vague.

The first mention of Hole-in-the-Wall that I managed to trace was on a map by Couvens in 1737. The name is shown as ‘Hole in the Rock’, and that name alternated with the present one in both English and French, with variations, until settling on ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ in the c20.

To see the full cartographical post see HISTORY OF ABACO / HOLE IN THE WALL IN MAPS

I also researched the pictorial history of Hole-in-the-Wall. Eventually I came across what may be the first pictorial representation of the Hole in the Wall. It is a fascinating aquatint from 1803 by J. Wells, published in The Naval Review and based on a sketch by a ship’s officer that accompanied a description of the southern end of Abaco for the Review. To put the picture’s age into perspective, it was completed 2 years before Nelson’s decisive victory against the combined French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar.

If you are still awake & would like to see the full post, click HOLE IN THE WALL: 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT

AN ARTISTIC PUZZLE OF LOCATION ATTRIBUTION – A WORK IN PROGRESS

The other notable depiction of Abaco is a print made by (or in conjunction with) the famous artist Winslow Homer, at the time that he was commissioned to produce work in the Bahamas in the 1880s. This print is the subject of ongoing research by myself and others. It is called ‘On Abaco Island’ and clearly shows the Hole in the Wall as we knew it until last week.

Winslow Homer also produced a well-known painting, the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum, entitled ‘Glass Windows’. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to conclude that the painting is based almost exactly on the view in the print. Even if one ignores the geological evidence (eg the structural detail of the rock at the apex of the arch), note the cloud formations that match perfectly. The print predates and was the template for the painting. If the print was the result of Homer’s time in the Bahamas and an undocumented (?) visit ‘On Abaco Island’, so must the painting be…

However, the Homer / Brooklyn painting ‘Glass Windows’ is generally identified with the similar ‘rock hole’ formation on Eleuthera that is actually known as the Glass Window. As I mentioned earlier, the Eleuthera formation suffered the same fate in a storm, and a new road bridge now connects the two sides.Picture credit http://www.eleuthera-map.com (see also http://www.abacomapbahamas.com)

It isn’t easy to tell whether there is any geological similarity between rock structure in the painting and the Glass Window on Eleuthera. However the contention (mine, anyway) is that the Winslow Homer painting ‘Glass Windows’ is of the Hole in the Wall, Abaco and should be recognised as such. The poignancy of last week’s events at HitW – the loss of a well-loved island feature that can never be replaced – arguably makes the thesis more significant.

One further nugget in support of the case is that I have very recently discovered contemporary written evidence that in the second half of the c19, around the time that Homer was working in the Bahamas, the Hole in the Wall, Abaco was known locally as the ‘glass window’. That would explain Homer’s naming of the painting based on the Abaco print, and strengthens (concludes?) the argument that it is, indeed, of Abaco and not Eleuthera. QED. Repatriate Winslow!