From St. Kitts we sail a few miles southeast to Nevis, the smaller and fancier of the twin islands. We drop anchor in front of the main docks in Charlestown, the biggest and most populated town in Nevis. In the backdrop, beyond the towns and villages, a small green volcano rises to meet the clouds.
The architecture of the old colonial town of Charlestown is impressive with a few heavy stone cathedrals and old buildings neatly restored, painted in pale cheerful colors. But the most curious site with very interesting history is The Bath Hotel, at the south end of Charlestown, where a hot spring flows down from the mountain.
In 1778 local merchant John Huggins, clerk of the local assembly who took care of the thermal springs, decided to build a hotel nearby. His grave stone located in St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Charlestown reads: “Not many years before his death he became proprietor of the neighbouring hot springs over which out of good will towards his fellow creatures and not for any advantage of his own he erected convenient baths and at a short distance a large and expensive stone edifice for the accommodation of invalids.”
The early years of The Bath Hotel were quite grand. Constructed of the grey volcanic stone found on the island cut into square blocks, the ballroom and dining hall were furnished with mahogany furniture, rich brocade hangings, and thick rugs on polished floors. British author Gertrude Atherton wrote in “The Gorgeous Isle,” a novel set in Nevis, that the hotel, which could accommodate 50 guests in its bedrooms, “was surrounded by wide gardens of tropical trees, ferns and flowers…Its several terraces flamed with color, as well as its numerous little balconies and galleries, and the flat surfaces of the roof: the whole effect being that of an Eastern palace with hanging gardens, a vast pleasure house, designed for some extravagant and voluptuous potentate.”
The Bath Hotel in Nevis was the first tourist hotel and tropical sanatorium in the entire Caribbean region attracting not only ‘invalids’ but all the fashionable of the West Indie: rich merchants and planters, military officers, as well as wealthy European aristocrats arriving here to treat their ailments and soothe their aching muscles in the sulfuric healing waters of the volcanic hot spring administrated by skilled physicians, as well as to enjoy the social scene in Nevis.
The Bath House and other bathing facilities built at the base of the hotel capture the thermal spring water with near boiling temperatures and high sulfur content produced by groundwater coming in contact with hot volcanic rock. These mineral waters, it was believed, had restorative powers able to cure gout, rheumatism and other debilitating conditions.
But after the downfall of the sugar production and trade and with the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the hotel lost its clientele and fell into disrepair. In the following years various owners restored it to some degree and today it is a government building housing various government offices and the Nevis Island Administration.
The Bath House is abandoned and in ruins, but residents and visitors can still ‘take the waters’ in the two mineral water pools outside of the hotel, at no charge.
It is noon in July, the air is burning hot in the tropical sun, but the water in the shallow pool that smells of boiled eggs is even hotter.
Slowly, gradually, painfully, I enter the hot pool. It feels like billions of tiny needles on my skin. I don’t know if these waters will heal my aching muscles, but if I remain submerged for over 10-15 minutes my heart will fail for sure.
It’s time to cool down with the help of a huge bucket of ice cream back on the boat and we are ready to sail again. Next stop: Montserrat.