Of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Salt Cay is the smallest and least populated with fewer than 100 year-round residents.
With an area of 2.5 square miles and salt ponds dominating the island, the landscape and characteristics of Salt Cay vastly differ prominent tourist destinations and other islands in the Turks and Caicos.
During the 17th century, the Bermudians arrived on Salt Cay where they established the capital of the island, Balfour Town. They began production of salt from brine, which became the principal industry for the next 250+ years. In 1766, British rule fell over the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is believed that George Washington used Turks and Caicos salt to preserve food for his army during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).
However, several factors, including competition, costs and the lack of a deep-water harbour brought the Turks and Caicos salt industry to an end by the 1930’s. Only the remnants of nine original windmills, which previously pushed salt water into the drying pans, now remain. Through years of neglect and multiple storms, the windmills are now rendered useless, but still provide nesting spots for ospreys and egrets, and donkeys that once pulled carts for the salt, now have free reign over the island.
Among the historic buildings on the island, the White House, built by Alexander Harriott, sits in the centre of the island on Victoria Street and only a few metres from the Villas of Salt Cay. An imposing sight, the house is of Bermudian influence and built of stone and stucco with a Bermudian stone roof. Although constructed by the same man and of similar proportions, the White House differs greatly in appearance from the Brown House.
In 1832, Alexander Harriott decided to build the Brown House, another historic salt plantation home located on Salt Cay. Its rare mortise-and-tenon joint of yellow cypress planking construction is an impressive architectural sight, which has resisted almost 200 years of hurricanes, termites and decades of neglect. The Brown House can be found in the South end of the island in Balfour Town.
The most beautiful views can be found on top of Taylor’s Hill, which was once used by the Turks Island Whaling Company in 1845. Along with the amazing views of the whole island and the magnificent seas, you can find the rumoured ruins of the whale watching station or an eccentric salt merchants home – possibly both! Many locals refer to the ruins as “mysterious.”