Laurence Rockefeller is described as a businessman, financier, philanthropist, and to most people in the Virgin Islands, conservationist. He was a third generation Rockefeller who was born into Money. The world was his oyster really and he was very much interested in what was going on around him and what he could do to make the world a little better and brighter.
In 1952 Laurence Rockefeller landed on Caneel Bay while sailing through the U.S Virgin Islands. It occupied a 170-acre peninsula and was flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. This St. John site had seven exquisite beaches. Rockefeller thought the area to be exceptionally beautiful and of course being the man with all the money in the world, he decided to buy it. At the time the land was going for $188 per acre and Rockefeller paid a total of $960,000 for the land, which might sound paltry by today’s standards but back then it was a fortune.
In three years Rockefeller had managed to put up a resort with basic infrastructure like roads, electricity and fresh water. Caneel Bay became an exclusive retreat for the Rockefeller’s and friends. However what made it different from most luxurious, upscale island resorts is that Rockefeller believed so much in conservation he encouraged visitors to embrace nature and not try to bend it to man’s will. Caneel Bay had rustic bungalows and a casual luxury with plenty of space and opportunity to interact with nature.
When the resort opened in 1956- there were no no phones or televisions or any of the creature comforts you would expect to get. Things have changed though. These days there is WiFi in every room never mind the televisions. The idea of unbridled communing with nature and the freedom to just be away from prying eyes and papparazzi drew a lot of rich businessmen, celebrities, captains of industry and because it was a Rockefeller who was eschewing the trappings of luxury, many folks who revered the legacy of the Rockefeller name bought into it. Rockefeller ended donating the land back to the people of St. Johns at a picnic on December 1, 1956. He had one condition: that he would still be allowed to run the Caneel Bay resort.
Caneel Bay Remains one of the best eco-resorts in the islands. The lightings are low, the buildings are rustic and unobtrusive and the water is protected. It is actually situated in want has now become a national part. The wildlife, the sea creatures is protected. The water is full of sea turtles who swim and frolic free from danger. A resort in a national park still sounds like a novel idea after all these decades, but it is an idea that has protected this stretch of land from being invaded by a bunch of hotels and tourists disturbing the natural ecosystem. Because of this visionary pioneering conservationist, two-thirds of St. John remain protected virgin paradise.