Style & Grace On
Water Island


By 1970, the Colony Club had 110 rooms making it one of the largest hotels in the Virgin Islands.

In 1972, there were 58 homes, four apartment buildings and one duplex that were occupied on Water Island.

On 10 June 1972, a Citizen’s Committee from St Thomas petitioned President Nixon to turn over Water Island to the Virgin Islands for use as recreational and living space. In December 1972, a Bill was introduced in the V.I. Legislature petitioning the federal government to transfer Water Island to the Virgin Islands Government at the end of the twenty-year lease. Also in 1972, the V.I. Legislature established a Water Island Commission to investigate all aspects of the Master Lease. After examining the evidence and conducting public hearings, the Commission concluded that the Master Lease was valid and had been complied with by the leaseholders.

The Citizen’s Committee petition to President Nixon and the Water Island Commission began a 24 year battle over the future of Water Island and more importantly, the rights of the sub-sub lease holders who had invested in and developed Water Island.

Despite public outcry, on 1 January 1973, the Department of the Interior renewed the Master Lease for another twenty years until December 1992.

The First Annual Water Island Dog Show was held on 26 December 1975 with 24 dogs participating.

The Water Island Botanical Gardens was written up in the St. Thomas Daily News, “Garden of Eden Five Minutes Away”.

In 1977, the Water Island Colony Club shuts down and reopens in December 1977 as the Sugar Bird Hotel under the management of the Beach Management Corporation headed by Bud Bishop.

Early Colony Club Postcard

In 1977, VI Delegate to Congress Ron deLugo introduced a bill to transfer Water Island to the territory.

In February 1978, Norm and Lucy Gidley sponsored the 1st Annual Water Island Croquet Tournament at Honeymoon Beach.

The first winner was Benny Blosser. The tournament continued into the 1980’s. Norm Gidley (as Captain Krokay) presenting Bennie Blosser First Prize is shown below at the Awards Ceremony.

In 1980, the assessed land value of an unimproved lot was $20,000 per acre. At that time, the hotel property was between 35-75 acres, improved sub-sub lease land was 90 acres, unimproved sub-sub leases were between 62-145 acres, Sprat Bay Corporation held 156 acres, and major tracts of unsubdivided land was between 90-15 acres. (Note: precise definition of ownership was vague at the time).

In May 1980, the VI Economic Development Administration published the Study of Water Island-Economic Development Options. The Study proposed a 10 Year Development Plan aimed at significantly expanding development on Water Island to maximize potential benefits (stable jobs and increased numbers of tax paying permanent residents). At the end of the complete build-out, the Study presented an alternative that would yield 3,564 dwelling units housing 9,000 people on Water Island. The resultant density would be about 13,700 persons per square mile. And, the issues of providing potable water, sewage treatment, solid waste, and roads were not addressed.

Needless to say, this Study sparked an awakening of Water Islanders. The Water Island Civic Association again played a huge role in trying to mitigate the large number of development projects included in the Study. Eventually, the selected scenario recommended to be followed called for a total of 420 dwelling units, an increase of about 200 more than existed. The number of single family homes was envisioned to increase from 98 to 205, multifamily units would grow from 23 to 78 and the number of hotel rooms would be expanded from 99 to 137.

In 1980, Ron deLugo introduced another bill to Congress asking that Water Island be transferred to the Virgin Islands.

The January 1982 edition of Town and Country Magazine had a spread on the Sugar Bird Hotel and Tennis Club. Picture of hotel shown below.

Many years earlier, Walter started a tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July. This picture is of Walter reading at Honeymoon Beach in 1984.

During the 70’s and 80’s, there were so many cocktail parties and other social events that the residents created a Social Secretary to schedule events. Cocktail parties started at 6PM and ended at 8PM sharp. Dinners went from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.

On 17 – 18 September 1989 Hurricane Hugo destroyed many buildings on Water Island including the Hotel. The island was devastated!!!! The Category 3 hurricane (some reports had it at a Category 4) had sustained winds of 100 mph with the highest winds recorded at 129 mph. The Hotel was not granted a permit to rebuild and remained closed.

Honeymoon Beach after Hurricane Hugo

In September 1990, The Virgin Islands published the Alternate Concept Plans for Water Island prepared by Strategic Planning Group, Jacksonville, Florida for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. This Alternate Concept Plan presented six alternatives for the further development of Water Island. Again, infrastructure demands were not addressed nor computed and development was planned throughout the island. The Water Island Civic Association again played a huge role in trying to moderate the Virgin Islands appetite for development of Water Island.

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, the Shaffer family started the Annual Auction benefiting the Water Island Civic Association. This picture is of the March 1991 auction held in the Shaffer’s side yard.

On 8 July 1991, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published the “Archives Search Report—The San Jose Project in the U.S. Virgin Islands” This report outlined the activities of the San Jose Project based on historical records. While St Thomas was awarded a Risk Assessment Code of 5 (no action required), Water Island was given a Risk Assessment Code of 1(imminent hazard-emergency action required to mitigate the hazard or protect personnel-fencing of test areas). On Water Island, no physical evidence or documentary indications were discovered to demonstrate the existence of a hazard, only the potential for existence of hazards. However, an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis was recommended on test areas 4, 5 and Flamingo Bay.

The matriarch of Water Island, Floride Phillips, passed away on 6 March 1992. Floride Noble Cheeseborough was born 21 September 1897 in Galveston, Texas. She married Walter on 4 July 1925, a marriage that lasted 66 years, 3 months and 2 days. Walter said “Water Island is her monument. Let us strive to make it worthy of her.”

Five years later on March 24th, 1997, Walter Phillips passed away while swimming at Honeymoon Beach…a beach that he developed. He was 97 years old.

Walter & Floride’s legacy lives on today. By special permit they were both buried, side by side, on Water Island… An Island of Their Own.