Just 55 miles off the coast of Florida, Grand Bahama Island, the fourth largest of The Islands of The Bahamas, gets its name from the Spanish “gran bajamar” meaning “great shallows” for its many flats and shoals in the waters off the island.
Skulls, bones, and artifacts have been found in the caves at the Lucayan National Park. In western Grand Bahama Island, Deadman Reef, a popular snorkelling reef, is home to one of the most important local archaeological sites discovered to date. A recent dig along the eroding beach front of Deadman Reef unearthed many artifacts belonging to the Lucayan Indians, including hearths, animal bones, pottery pieces, and shell beads. This discovery has been dated back to around 1200 - 1300 A.D.
Along with this site, the bones of pre-Columbian Lucayans were found in an underwater cave system, indicating an ancient burial site. Both of these discoveries helped to confirm that the Lucayans were among the first settlers of Grand Bahama Island.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century, Grand Bahama Island had largely been left alone by the outside world. There were plenty of sails on the horizon as ships came and went through the Caribbean, but more often than not they passed by. Records from 1836 show that the population of West End numbered only about 370, many of whom abandoned the island for the greater opportunities of Nassau. In 1861, however, due to the American Civil War, the flow of people reversed direction, and population of the town virtually doubled overnight.
At the outbreak of the war, The Confederate States of America, immediately fell under a strict Union blockade and embargo. Getting goods such as sugar, cotton, and weapons in and out of the Confederacy was essential to the war effort, and smugglers operating out of West End were able to command hefty prices from the South. As soon as the war ended, however, so did the boom, but the short burst of prosperity set an important precedent: From then on, the history of Grand Bahama Island was intimately tied to that of the United States.
The next smuggling boom came from a much different (and much more sought-after) banned good in the U.S.: alcohol. If the residents of West End had known that the 14th Amendment would bring unheard-of prosperity to their village, they probably would have lobbied for it themselves. Prohibition brought warehouses, distilleries, bars, supply stores, and inns to West End. The town's smugglers had the system down to a science. They'd sail off at night, with ropes dragging huge cylinders of liquor behind them. If the American coast guard pursued, they would simply cut the ropes, wait for the patrol to leave, then recover them. Just as it was during the Civil War, however, as soon the U.S. solved its problem, the economy dove and people started fishing again. It was only with the rise of tourism that the fickleness of the economy would change for good.
Grand Bahama Island is a unique destination combining a world-class resort with the charm of historical fishing villages and undiscovered ecological treasures. It has one of the world's largest underwater cave systems, three national parks, endless beaches, emerald green water and enchanting marine life.
In 1955, the second most populated city of the Bahamas was little more than a pine forest. There were no resorts, no flashing casino lights or jet-skiers zipping through the surf. Grand Bahama Island was one of the least developed of The Islands of The Bahamas. No one could have imagined then that the island would become the quintessential tropical Caribbean playground.
The city of Freeport was conceived by American financier, Wallace Groves, who lived on Grand Bahama Island since the mid-1940s. American vacationers were streaming into Cuba by the tens of thousands, and Groves believed that Grand Bahama could be a beautiful alternative to the overcrowded beaches and casinos of Havana.
Establishing The Grand Bahama Port Authority Ltd., in 1955 Groves then approached the Bahamian government with his idea to build a town that catered to both industry and tourists. A famous document known as The Hawksbill Creek Agreement was signed, and Freeport was born.
The Agreement granted 50,000 acres of land to The Grand Bahama Port Authority Ltd., with an option of adding an additional 50,000. To encourage investment, it also freed the Port Authority from paying taxes on income, capital gains, real estate, and private property until 1985 (a provision that has since been extended to the year 2054). Groves then convinced shipping tycoon D. K. Ludwig to construct a harbour (the Lucayan Harbour), and in 1962 brought in Canadian Louis Chesler to develop the tourist center of Lucaya. The result is a community completely tailored to the getaway tourist, a premeditated paradise offering almost every kind of vacation activity imaginable.