Brief History of Moonhole


Tom and Gladdie Johnston retired from the advertising business in the United States and moved to Bequia to run the Sunny Caribbee Hotel in the late 1950s. The family that owned the uninhabited western end of Bequia invited them to visit the giant natural rock arch known as Moonhole. At the time that end of the island was accessible only by footpath or by boat.

Tom and Gladdie trekked to the site, picnicked beneath the arch, and followed the rough path to the western tip of the island. The rock arch soon became their favorite spot on Bequia. Knowing of the their love for the site and considering them rather eccentric, the owners discretely suggested that they purchase the property for a price well above the going price for land at the time.

No one thought the property was suitable for building. To the astonishment of the owners, the Johnstons swallowed the bait and agreed to buy the 30-acre tract at the owners’ initial offering price, without negotiation. This was just the first of many surprises to come.

Tom lit on the idea of building a campsite underneath the rock arch. Landing supplies and building materials by boat and enlisting the assistance of some hardy men of Paget Farm, he began building, stone by stone. With no formal training as an architect, Tom relied on plans he sketched in the sand and a trial-and-error approach to construction. He picked up whalebones, driftwood and shells and incorporated them into the structure. The campsite soon evolved into a house with a working kitchen, dining area and bedrooms. After much cajoling, Tom eventually convinced Gladdie they should make Moonhole their home.

The Moonhole house caught the attention of curiosity-seekers and Tom’s reputation spread far and wide. Many publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic Society Publications, and Sports Illustrated, featured Tom’s creations at Moonhole. At the urging of friends, Tom agreed to build houses for them. He aimed to develop the Moonhole property as what he called a people preserve.

Tom and Gladdie formed Moonhole Company Limited in 1964 and transferred title to the lands to the company. Working side by side with carpenters and masons from Paget Farm over thirty years, Tom built sixteen more houses, a commissary and office, living quarters for the burgeoning Moonhole staff, and a Gallery where Moonholers congregated every Sunday.

Rather than cut down trees, Tom built around them. Trees still grow up through the middle of living rooms, bedrooms and decks. Every house was built with stones harvested from the land. Stone paths provide access to all houses, as Tom would not countenance putting a road into the property. Solar panels power most houses and rain collected in huge cisterns supplies water to each house.

The Johnstons presided over the Moonhole community for more than 40 years with an indomitable spirit of Happiness Now! Gladdie took care of business matters, tempering with common sense some of Tom’s creative urges. An accomplished artist, Tom created scrimshaw sculptures from the bones of whales captured by Bequia whalers. His sculptures adorn houses at Moonhole and around the world. Tom also spent countless hours capturing Moonhole’s profuse flora and fauna on videotape, accompanied by his favorite music and edited from his hammock.

Tom and Gladdie were devoted to the people of Paget Farm, who built and staffed Moonhole. The Johnstons provided not only jobs, but also assistance with medical and educational expenses. They set up a private foundation called Moonhole Friends, Inc.”which continues to make charitable contributions in Bequia today.

To preserve and protect Moonhole, Tom bequeathed his controlling interest in Moonhole Company to a trust called the Moonhole Conservation Trust. His trustees are committed to safeguarding his architectural legacy and the unique culture of Moonhole for the benefit of present and future generations of Moonholers and the people of Paget Farm. The trustees manage Moonhole as a wildlife and marine sanctuary and a haven for artistic achievement in a tranquil and private environment. Contribute to the trust.

Moonhole is not open to the public. The magnificent rock arch and the house perched beneath it may only be viewed by boat from the sea. Several of Tom’s original stone houses are now available for rental by the week or month.