Life on Shirley Street

During the 1920s, a pleasant, laid-back neighborhood lay east of the capital city of Nassau, Bahamas.  Island-style homes were built on the eastern portion of Shirley Street to provide a rustic feel to folks eager to leave Nassau’s city bustle.   As locals headed east from Nassau by foot, bicycle or horse n’ buggy, historic landmarks adorned the trail, including the Nassau Public Library, the Royal Victoria Hotel, the three-storey R. H. Curry house (pictured below), St Matthew’s Anglican Church and Ebenezer Methodist Church. At the eastern end of the road that joins East Bay Street, the Montague Beach Hotel on the shoreline overlooked the sheltered bay.

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J F Coonley photo of Shirley Street looking West.  Published in Ronald G. Lightbourn’s Reminiscing II with permission of Syndics of Cambridge University Library.   The roof and weather vane of the Nassau Public Library can be seen in the background on the right.

During this era, two young transplants, George BASIL Lowe and Amy Adelle Griffin, traveled on Nassau roads.  Their families had relocated to Nassau from the Out Islands during the 1920s.  The Lowe family emigrated from Marsh Harbour, Abaco while the Griffin family arrived from Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera.

Basil and Amy met on Nassau’s King Street when they lived downtown.  Here they fell in love and married in 1927.

Marriage Register-Amy Griffin & George LoweThe couple decided to move east to start their family.  Basil, a skilled carpenter by trade, erected a modest home on the Shirley Street property where his sister Charlotte MARIE and brother-in-law, William “Willie” Edwin Griffin lived.

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William “Willie” Edwin Griffin and  Charlotte MARIE Lowe Griffin

Willie Griffin and Amy Griffin, Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera siblings, married two Marsh Harbour, Abaco siblings, Marie and Basil Lowe.

In this Shirley Street home, Amy gave birth to three children:  Jean Adell, George Stanley and my mother, Doreen Mae.

Childless Aunt Marie Griffin provided tender help with her sister-in-law Amy’s growing family.   Aunt Marie would push baby Doreen in a stroller around the Shirley Street neighborhood.  Uncle Willie, a skilled house painter, nurtured a variety of freshwater fish, bees and birds on the property.

 

Baby
Doreen Mae Lowe (1934-2019).  Photograph colorized by artist Ida Moore Lightbourn
Doreen Lowe
Doreen Mae Lowe.  Photo on the grounds of William and Marie (Lowe) Griffin.

As Basil’s carpentry business grew, he saved enough money to purchase a plot of land a short distance west on Shirley Street.  He dismantled their two-storey home and relocated it to the new site.  Upstairs had separate bedrooms for Doreen and her brother George.  Basil converted the downstairs porch into another bedroom for Jean, the oldest sibling.  At this location, Amy gave birth to her fourth and last child, Elizabeth “Betty” Evon.

Lowe Siblings
Children of Basil Lowe and Amy Griffin.  Standing left to right – Jean Adell, George Stanley and my mother, Doreen Mae.  Seated – Elizabeth Evon.

Basil built a carpenter’s workshop on this sizable property to house the artisan’s equipment.    Soon he enlisted the help of nephew James RENARD Lowe, son of Basil’s older brother Harvey LAIRD Lowe and Amelia Estelle Key.  Mom recalled that her cousin Renard lost a fingertip in a workshop accident.

George Basil Lowe 2
George BASIL Lowe (1905-1971), son of William JESSE Lowe and Mary ODIAH Albury.

Basil and Renard’s accomplished reputation spread.  They built homes for locals and foreigners.  They also handled commercial construction jobs.  Their most notable commercial project was a three-storey building on the southeastern corner of East Street and Shirley Street.  This building once housed the medical practices of Canadian Dr. Hugh Quackenbush and Dr. Kenneth Eardley.

Adjoining Basil and Amy’s property backyard was the home of Green Turtle Cay native Emma Louise Curry Moree.  Mom described an enormous tamarind tree that hugged the property line.  The tropical fruit borne was a tart delicacy to Mom, her siblings and other neighborhood children.  One afternoon, Mom’s craving was thwarted. The ten-year-old peered up the massive tamarind tree to seek low hanging fruit.  She encountered the glare of a large snake’s eyes.  She ran!

During Mom’s early years, she attended Queens College classes on the lower level of Trinity Methodist Church.  She transferred to the Seventh Day Adventist School on Wulff Road.  She rode her bicycle to school via the Kemp Road trail that connected Shirley Street to Wulff Road.

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Bicyclist Doreen Mae Lowe on Shirley Street.

Mom remarked that she could ride her bicycle in safety anywhere over the island during those years.  She also enjoyed horse n’ buggy rides west on Shirley Street to visit her Griffin grandparents who lived in downtown Nassau.

At the roadside of the Shirley Street residence, Basil erected a modest grocery, fruit and dairy stand.  Industrious residents had several revenue streams.

After school, teenage Doreen served local customers.  She shaved snow cones from blocks of ice purchased from Bay Street vendors.  These cold treats sold quickly to hot and thirsty travelers on the Shirley Street corridor.

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Doreen Lowe at the side entrance of the Lowe Convenience Store on Shirley Street.

In the late 1940s after World War II, Mom was rushed to the former air force barracks Prospect Ridge Hospital for an appendectomy performed by Dr. Meyer Rassin.  Her long episode prevented mom’s completion of high school.  She took several evening classes from Mr. Herbert Roberts, former headmaster of Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School.

One afternoon, Bay Street businessman and Eleutherian native Ted Pyfrom, stopped by the home of Basil and Amy.   He recruited Mom to work in the Pyfrom businesses on Bay Street between Frederick and Charlotte Streets.  Brothers Theodore “Ted” and Sidney Pyfrom owned several businesses in the heart of Nassau.  Unbeknownst to Mom at that time, these Pyfrom brothers were cousins that descended from Griffin lineage that dates back to the 1700s in Eleuthera.

In Pyfrom’s Juvenile Shop, Mom assisted customers shopping for baby items and English linen luxuries, including gloves.  A dirt alley between the Juvenile shop and Pyfrom’s Carib shop provided a convenient spot for Mom to park her bicycle.  During lunch breaks, Mom often walked a couple blocks east to the Nassau Public Library on Shirley Street between Parliament Street and Bank Lane.  Librarian Gwendolyn Griffin provided updates on the latest book additions as well as a fond hug to her niece.  After all, she was mom’s favorite Aunt Gwen.

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Gwendolyn Griffin (R) at work in the Nassau Public Library.  Photo courtesy of Steffie Bethel.

In 1950, Mom embarked on her first overseas flight along with her cousin, Nellie Moore Saunders wife of photographer Walter Saunders.   The two adventurers explored Miami, Florida where they resided with Nellie’s sister, Adele Moore Mallett, wife of Dr. Eugene Mallett.  When Nellie flew back to Nassau, Mom lodged with her first cousin Dorothy Louise Lowe and her husband George HORACE Albury for a few extra days.  When Mom returned and landed in Nassau, no one was at the Oakes Airport to meet her – a stranded teenager.  A family friend at the airport came to her rescue.

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Doreen Lowe and John Lowe

As life unfolded on Shirley Street for this young woman, she noticed a young man who rode his bicycle around the neighborhood.  He’d often stop at Basil’s workshop to chat with Renard.  These two young men developed a brotherly bond.  The visitor’s name was John Wesley Lowe.  He had moved to Nassau from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.

John’s blue eyes locked on petite Doreen.  He had now found another reason to increase his visits to Basil’s workshop.  History was in the making.

Granny 2
Doreen Mae Lowe (circa 1950)

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