Everything to Build Anything

As a teenager in the early 1940s, Dad John Lowe left the Abaconian shores of Green Turtle Cay.  His widowed mother Bessie sought medical attention for her ailing father, Pa Wes Curry.  The three travelers headed by mailboat to the Bahamas Colony’s capital city of Nassau.  Upon arrival, Bessie’s sister, Emmie Moree, greeted her new boarders.  Shirley Street resident Aunt Emmie provided meals and lodging to help her out island family transition to their new life.

In Nassau, Dad immediately sought employment to help support his mother.  Green Turtle Cay’s two-room All-Age School gave Dad a seventh grade equivalent education of solid basics.  After a short stint at a gas station Dad spent a few years at City Market grocery store on Bay Street.  Around 1947, Dad was offered a job at Maura Lumber Company on Bay Street.  For nearly two decades Dad exceled and broadened his business skills.  He was widely known for exceptional personalized service to his patrons.

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Maura Lumber Company was situated on Bay Street’s harbor waterfront in the island’s center of commerce.  Founder and owner, William Henry Handford Maura (1880-1959), oversaw the operations. Just east of Victoria Avenue, the store supplied islanders with lumber, hardware, paint, marine supplies and equipment, housewares, and toys.  On the other side of the street The Horse Shoe Restaurant attracted patrons in the hot climate to cold banana splits, ice cream sundaes, milk shakes and snow cones!

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Bay Street storefront - local newspaper photo 
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

A local newspaper reported:

In the 1920’s William H. H. Maura, “Willie” as he was known to his friends, was a sponge broker with offices at the Vendue wharf…In the early 1930’s he became the retail agent for the Bahamas Cuban Company…Mr. Maura became the manager and agent of their Nassau operation.  The company had sole lumber rights to all timber grown in the Bahamas…He bought the Bahamas branch of the Cuban company and launched out as WHH Maura & Sons, suppliers of lumber and building materials. 

As a sideline to his lumber business, Mr. Maura sold wholesale provisions – flour, sugar, Canadian canned goods and bales of hay…In 1938 WHH Maura & Sons became the Bahamas Lumber Co.  In 1945 its name was changed yet again to Maura Lumber Co., Ltd. 

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W. H. H. Maura standing in front of the original Bay Street storefront
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

The following year, John, the youngest of the three Maura sons, returned from active service in World War II and with his older brother, Montague, started the rapid expansion of the family enterprise.  In 1954 the two brothers built and operated the first modern self-service hardware store that adjoined the lumber and building supplies operation.  Within a few years marine products, boats and accessories, housewares and toys were all sold at Maura’s.

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W. H. H. Maura with sons Monty (left) and John (right)
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

The Maura estate Fleetwood was located on Bay Street east of Okra Hill.  On Nassau’s harbor, it included a long dock with a dockhouse as well as a large aviary in the back yard.

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 Fleetwood Estate
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

W. H. H. Maura had great stature of character, a fine gentlemen. An active member at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk, his community service visited lepers isolated at the Lazaretto in the pine barrens of the undeveloped Carmichael area.  He is listed as owner of several vessels, including Lady Hennessy, MascotArticCoral, and Teaser.  His niece told,

In the early days of the Savoy Theatre downtown, he would dress to the hilt (white suit with hat), and pace the sidewalk outside the theatre to greet the movie-goers. This was a social time for him.

His brother, Bruce Maura (1885-1945), was one of the Gallant Thirty who served the British Empire during World War I.  Shell-shocked, Bruce was fortunate to return home.

The original immigrant Maura is said to be Don Juan Maura from Catalonia, Spain born in the 1780’s. He was Spain’s first consul in Nassau.

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Special thanks to Ann Morley Carmel for providing this 1848 ship's manifest.  
Note Don Juan (John) Maura's name five up from the bottom.

After Don Juan married Mary Amelia Catherine Patou in 1836 at St. Matthew’s Church in Nassau, the couple had 11 children.  She fell victim to the 1852 cholera epidemic in Nassau.  Her obituary reads:

We deeply regret…to record among the few cases that remained yesterday, the death of Mrs. Maura, the amiable partner of the Spanish Consul for this port…This amiable lady was a most devoted wife and mother, and beloved by all who knew her. The flags of the shipping in the harbour were lowered to half-mast to-day, as were also the Spanish, American and French flags at the Consulates” 

Don Juan Maura’s great-grandson, William Henry Handford Maura continued the family’s legacy as a prominent family in the Bahamas.  In 1908, he married Amelia Kathleen Butler.  They raised three sons and two daughters in Nassau.

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Top Row (L to R) Monty Maura (son), Amelia Kathleen Butler Maura (mother), 
W. H. H. Maura (father), Alice Maura (daughter)  
Bottom Row (L to R) Bertram Maura (son), Helen Maura (daughter),
Sadie Poole Maura (wife of Bertram), John Maura (son)
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

A. Talbot Bethell in his book The Early Settlers of the Bahamas and Colonists of North America describes W. H. H. Maura as follows:

…a large importer of Canadian Manufactured Goods and carries on an extensive Lumber Business.  President of the Nassau Sponge Exchange CO., Ltd., and is himself a Sponge Broker.

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A Nassau resident stated,

I remember that he (W. H. H. Maura) always wore a white suit. He would come in the store, and look around to see that everyone was doing something. His second son, Monty Maura, ran the lumberyard and the third son, John Maura, ran the hardware section.

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W.H.H. Maura (left) with the Duke of Windsor and Captain Holland.

The eldest son, Dr. Bertram Maura, DD, PhD, studied at a university in Canada. He returned to Nassau to teach. One of his Queen’s College students had fond memories of him as her English Literature teacher in the World War II years. Under his tutelage, many excelled. She recalls the impact of his godly influence in one of his many thought-provoking quotes.

 It doesn’t matter what or who you came from…it’s where you choose to go in life.

This thriving operation of Maura Lumber Company not only provided essential supplies to the community, but also jobs for the locals.  Here, Dad formed friendships with coworkers that included Jack Roberts, Donald Cates, Allan Curry, Noel A. Roberts, Eddie Maura, Sammy Malone, B.C. Malone, Fred Cadman and Peter Lowe, to name a few.

My sister, Paula, recalls:

When I was a little girl, Dad bought me a hula hoop from Maura Lumber Co. on Bay Street. I  loved to carry it to school at Queen’s College, which in those days was at Trinity Methodist Church on Frederick Street.  Dad would drop me off to school on his way to work.

Dad was placed in charge of the paint department under the leadership of the son, John Maura, World War II pilot.  My oldest brother, Paul, tells:

This was the era before today’s technology. Customers would come in with a color they wanted to match. With a careful blue eye, Dad would look at it and produce the exact color the customer desired. He would add tint of one color, shake the can, then add other tints until a perfect match was achieved. He was a human paint machine.

Since Dad excelled in the paint department, the company sent him to tour a few paint manufacturing facilities, owned by American brothers.  One plant was located in Tennessee, the other in New York.

His first tour led Dad to Cleveland, Tennessee, in May 1955.  Dad, Mom (pregnant at the time) and my sister Paula left Nassau on a ship headed for the port of Miami.  Mother made plans to stay her uncle Henry Griffin in Miami while dad traveled on business.

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Dad and my sister Paula in Miami after his return from Tennessee.

Dad met up with Lamar Ingram, an American sales representative, and together they boarded a train bound for Cleveland, Tennessee. Dad recalled his island boy excitement as he gazed on the scenic mountains for the first time.  He spoke of the graciousness of their hosts and the comforts of an estate nestled in the countryside.  Dad returned by plane to Miami with a souvenir puppy broach in hand for his daughter.

A few years later, Dad and Donald Cates boarded a plane for New York.  In addition to touring the paint plant, they also had the opportunity to sightsee around the Big Apple city.

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John Lowe (left) and Donald Cates (right) - New York skyline in the background.

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John Lowe (left) and Donald Cates (right) - sightseeing cruise in New York.

Upon his return, eager young kids awaited souvenirs…a doll adorned in a teal green dress, high heels and earrings for my sister…two crinoline slips, a 50 yard for my sister and 100 yard for mom.  Not sure what my brother received!

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My sister posing with my brother and her New York "American" doll in hand.

In 1962 Maura Lumber Company opened a branch on Shirley Street, almost across from St. Matthew’s Church.  Soon afterwards, John Maura offered Dad a position to manage this new location.  Here he worked with Eugene Albury, Elwood Pritchard, Lois Higgs Roberts and Jack Lowe, to name a few.  An accident involving hot wax, perhaps while sealing marine accessories, left third degree burns marks on dad’s hand and forearm.

Even though Maura Lumber Company is no longer in existence, to this day former patrons remember their Toyland during the Christmas Season.  Extended business hours accommodated the holiday shoppers.  Dad would race home for supper and return to the store until closing.  Even Santa Claus made appearances to greet the youngsters.  You always knew Christmas was just around the corner when Toyland opened!   

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My sister on Santa's lap.  
Nassau resident, Noel Pinder, would often appear as Toyland's Mr. Claus.

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 1960 advertisement in the Nassau Guardian.  
Special thanks to Salvatore Re for sharing this photo. 
He is the boy riding the bronco rocker.

My oldest brother, Paul, shares:

I remember how dad converted the store to the Toyland for the Christmas season. They decorated the windows with displays that had movable characters. People would drive by the store in the evenings so their kids could enjoy the displays.

I remember Dad selling train sets and Scalextric racing car/track sets. Toy cars were controlled by a trigger handle wired to the track that generated electricity to wire brushes on the bottom of the car.  He had set up on plywood an elaborate figure 8 track that was about waist height for a child. He encouraged the kids to race their own cars on the track for brief periods of time…a good marketing strategy.  He also sold Vespa scooters and British motorcycles in the store.  

In the warehouse he had large wooden crates full of all types of marbles.  These sold by the pound.  When I would go to the store, I would immediately head for the marbles. I dug through to find ones with unique designs.

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 Opening of the Shirley Street branch in 1962.  
Photo taken by Stanley Toogood.  Published in Nassau's The Tribune
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

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 Cousin Peter Lowe (top) - Lumber Department Manager.  
Cousin Jack Lowe (bottom left) - Lumber Sales Manager.
Published in The Tribune
Courtesy of Wendi Bates, granddaughter of W. H. H. Maura.

My dad’s cousin and Nassau businessman, Anthony ‘Tony’ Roberts, approached dad to manage his new acquisition of a furniture store in Centreville around 1966. The opportunity to help his Green Turtle Cay cousin appealed—both were grandsons of Pa Wes. It was a bittersweet decision for dad. To leave a successful career, satisfied customers and coworker friends had a tinge of sadness. After dad’s retirement in 1988, he would reminisce often on the many experiences at Maura Lumber Company.

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14 thoughts on “Everything to Build Anything

  1. A great read, Evan. You brought back my buried memories of Christmas at Maura’s! I always look forward to your posts.

  2. Remembering back to 1960 and seeing some of the characters featured here in the lumber department! Wonderful keepsake, thank you!

  3. Thanks again for another wonderful article of life in the Bahamas. Great to read about probable distant cousins and how their lives unfolded after leaving Green Turtle. Signed Great Granddaughter of John “Pump” Saunders and Mary Jane Lowe of Green Turtle, Abacos.

  4. I worked in Maura’s Toyland Christmas 1967 alongside Judy Maura – we weren’t official employees, but were there to wrap Christmas presents. It was a wonderful store, and John Maura was a wonderful man. Great article, thank you.

  5. I had Dr. Bertram Maura as a teacher of both English and Latin in Toronto in the 1960s. My old high school friends and I were recently reminiscing about what a wonderful teacher he was. Fond memories of Leaside High School.

  6. I enjoyed reading this article.
    My mother, Rowena Elden worked at Maura’s for 38 years along with many of the person mentioned in this article. I grew up in this company and also worked there for a few years.
    Wonderful memories!!

  7. Enjoyed reading very much. Bertram Maura, my mothers first cousin married my parents in 1944 at Ebenezer. I recently found a hand written copy of the ceremony he had given them.

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