HARRY L. JOHNSON MUSEUM
160-YEAR OLD SEA CAPTAIN'S COTTAGE
(for the time being) Wednesday and Friday
Entrance Fee: $2
HARRY LUKE JOHNSON MUSEUM
Saba's Harry Luke Johnson Museum is appropriately located in an original Saban cottage in Windwardside. It stands in the middle of a beautiful romantic garden in landscape style, which is used as a public park for picnics, in the past also for Sunday croquet games, and Easter egg hunts.
ORIGINS OF MUSEUM
Harry Luke Johnson (1914-1972) was a police officer and amateur artist, very interested in preserving Saba's heritage. He began Saba's first museum in 1970, when he bought a Windwardside cottage after the death of owner Ester Peterson at 103.
There, he put his personal collection on public exhibit along with his own paintings. When he died in 1972, he requested that then Commissioner Will Johnson (no relation) continue the preservation of Saba's heritage in a larger setting.
Commissioner Johnson contacted a Dutch museum curator from Gouda, who proposed that the museum should have a special theme.
Johnson suggested the island's involvement with the sea, since Saba is famous for its captains and had a navigation school in The Bottom from 1909-1922. The perfect solution was soon found in a Saban cottage built around 1840 by sea Captain Josiah Peterson.
The last Saban owners were Allen and Elsie Peterson who had nine children. Allen is buried on the property along with a daughter who died in infancy and two other family members.
In the 1970s, the property was purchased from its American owners, with the understanding it was to be turned into Saba's first official museum.
ESTABLISHING A FOUNDATION
The Harry Luke Johnson Memorial Foundation was created to manage the property and hire a curator. Curator Sherry Peterson's husband is a direct descendent of Josiah Peterson and Sherry was in function for 22 years.
The museum opened in 1977. Since then, there have been several attempts to develop the property and expand the museum. Twenty years ago there was an extensively researched project to build a hurricane-proof, underground museum especially for the excavated pre-columbian artifacts from the Amerindians. Saban politicians rejected the project-proposal concemed about the ongoing maintenance costs of such an undertaking.
The University of Leiden had conducted however archeological excavations since 1987 at several island locations and especially at Plum Piece. Many of these artifacts had been stored for further research in Holland, and part of it has been returned in 2013 when Saba offered an appropriate location for showcases.
KEEPING IT AUTHENTIC
'Very few changes-have been made to the original cottage. The floor has been redone with Douglass fir. The siding remains the classic shingles, painted white, with white storm shutters sporting green trim.
In the interest of more economical maintenance, unfortunately the original shingled roof was replaced several years ago with red galvalum.
The house conforms to classic Saban cottage architecture by being in two parts, each with a separate roof. The larger portion is made up of the master bedroom, the sitting room, and a smaller bedroom and is covered by a hip roof.
The smaller portion, containing the dining room and kitchen with its hearth and projecting brick oven, has its roof aligned with the larger section.
The double front door opens immediately into the sitting room, directly opposite another double door leading to the meadow at the back of the house.
The sitting room has a 100-year old organ harmonium donated by the Wesleyan Holiness Church. It is inscribed "Smith American Organ and Piano Company". The heavy instrument would have been hand-carried up the steep steps from Ladder Bay to Windwardside. There is also a "fainting couch" or "chaise longue", with a woven wicker bottom and sides, and wooden scrolls on the built-up end of the piece.
A prize exhibit - an 1886 clock from New York - has been stolen in 2011. It stood 23 inches high, had an etched glass cover, and was in working order.
The master bedroom has a magnificent mahogany four-poster bed with pineapple carvings, a wash-up stand with china basin and pitcher, and a woven desk with slanted writing surface.
The smaller, second bedroom is used for display of artifacts from numerous archeological excavations on the island, nautical instruments, seamen's documents from Saba's famous captains of the last century, and a small library of books and articles about the island.
The table in the dining room is set for dinner with Wedgwood earthenware from 1880, with the Edison Victrola in the corner ready to be cranked for some dinnertime music.
Sabans were very social, with dances held on Saturday night in people's homes. Musical instruments were hand-made or improvised, and many capable musicians could not read music, but learned the latest tunes from the radio or Victrola records.
The kitchen displays old implements gathered from the now deserted settlement of Mary's Point: teapots, lanterns, fruit squeezers, mortars and pestles, a shoe last, cassava squeezer, water jugs, and "hot heaters", as pressing irons were known.
There is also an old pellet gun, known as a chimney gun because it was kept over the mantle, ready to be put into service. The kitchen has a typical stone Saban hearth, but is one of the few that also has an oven. As usual at that time the chimney had been built with yellow bricks from the Netherlands ("IJsselsteentjes") that had been used in the 17th and 18th century first as ballast for ships and after that for constructing warehouses on St. Eustatius. Those warehouses were flattened in the 19th century and the stones were often transported to other islands.
Saba's Harry L. Johnson museum, its collection, and its unique setting are definitely worth a visit.
Harry L. Johnson Museum Wlndwardslde, Saba Caribbean Netherlands