Moonhole home built in a opening

You Can Still Stay in Moonhole Bequia, SVG

 Moonhole Bequia

When Tom Johnston drew his plans in the sand to build his home in Moonhole on Bequia (Beck-way), did he know that magazines and newspapers from afar would send journalists for the story? Did he know that his decision to build his unstructured home in a dangerous location would have a lasting impact on the people of Bequia and those who visited?

In the early 1960’s, untrained in architecture or design, Tom Johnston had used what was available to build his home on the undeveloped island of Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was and still is, an icon that represents the Johnston’s tie to nature. Unfortunately, today the house is condemned due to falling rocks and other hazards, and the only way for you to see it is by boat.

Monnhole home on sea edge
Tom and Gladdie Johnston’s former home is in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Moonhole and Tom Johnston

Moonhole is a naturally formed arched hole in a mountain that rises between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The hole measures about 75 feet wide and 100 feet tall. From the Atlantic side, you can look through the hole and view the Caribbean Sea. When the moon rises, it fills the opening with light, hence the name Moonhole. Today, the name applies to that area.

In the 1960’s Tom Johnston and his wife Gladdie, expatriates who formerly worked in advertising in Chicago, bought about 30 acres on Bequia’s southwest end. The land was undeveloped and full of cliffs and mountains, wildflowers, birds, animals, and of course, there were no paths.

Their favorite place was Moonhole where Tom had pitched a small tent for camping. They loved the ocean view and the seclusion, so Tom decided that it was the perfect place to build their home.

Building Moonhole

As you can imagine, there were many complications. First, getting to Moonhole was difficult. You skirted the beach and avoided high tide, or you would get soaked. Another option was to climb up and down steep mountains and cliffs. And if it was wet, the hike could become treacherous. Not to mention another obstacle: The area had no electricity or running water.

A Bequia boat delivers supplies
Bequia boat delivers building supplies

So of course, they decided that the best way to deliver construction supplies was by boat. Luckily a rock quarry was about a mile away, and Tom had hired carpenters and stonemasons from the local town, Paget Farm, to help him build his house.

Moonhole Materials

Paget Farm School on Bequia
Children play at the Paget Farm Government School on Bequia.

Tom used the materials available that included rocks, sand, and cement. One of their first endeavors was to cut paths through the volcanic rock to access the area. As he created his home, he used the land and sea as his levels, and he shaped his house by following the contours of the volcanic rock.

The walls curved protruded and indented, and most walls didn’t meet. Also, forget about standard windows and doors, Tom left openings.

Stone Quarry in Paget Farm
Tom Johnston used stone from this quarry to build Moonhole on Bequia.

He worked by the trial and error method, and if he made something that he didn’t like he tore it out or hid it. Additionally, he built around natural structures like trees, so it wasn’t uncommon to have a tree rise in the middle of his home.

Bar on Bequia made from whalebones
Bequia is a whaling town, but the government restricts the catch and method.

Bequia was, and still is, a whaling town. Tom used boat debris and whale bones to build and furnish his home. The island joke was that you could sell your junk to Tom Johnston.

Bequia Building Materials

He created railings out of anchor chains; shelves consisted of boards placed across rocks; boat dead eyes became towel racks; moreover, he created beams from spars and masts. Plus, his hobby was carving and designing whalebones, so his scrimshaw decorated his home.

Three Bequians wearing hats and carrying an umbrella
Tom Johnston found his builders and stonemasons in Paget Farm.

The rooms were unconnected, and the roofs and floors rose at various levels. Few places had four walls that connected. In some areas, you could step in the wrong direction and fall out of the house.

I gathered most of my information from the writer Thomas Carl Thomsen, a Bequia resident who knew the Johnstons and had documented their exploits in his book Tales of Bequia. My favorite story is about a tax collector who had arrived to assess the Johnston’s home.

Tax Collector Visits Moonhole

Tom asked the collector if he based his assessment on places with four walls. The tax man agreed. They walked the home and decided that it was difficult to measure because it was not composed of actual rooms. So instead, in typical Caribbean island style, they drank a beer, and the Johnstons never had to pay taxes on the house.

Tom Johnston Built the Moonhole Community

Monnhole home on sea edge
Tom and Gladdie Johnston’s former home is in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

After Tom and Gladdie moved into their home, they used kerosene for lighting and power, and cisterns collected rainwater. Tom’s friends loved his rustic home and lifestyle, and some asked him to build their homes. Tom was happy to build for them though they were not allowed to give their input on anything other than the number of bathrooms and bedrooms. Tom had said that the buyers were usually happy with his work.

Moonhole home built in a opening
The Johnstons’ Moonhole home is steps from the Caribbean Sea.

In addition to building 16 new homes for the Moonhole community, he had also constructed an office and commissary. Initially, the Moonhole neighbors, who were like hippies from the 60’s, lived like they were in a commune. They ate every meal together, but too much togetherness changed that. Eventually, they met only once a week, on Sundays, to dine together.

Moonhole and Tom and Gladdie Johnston Became Famous

Johnston’s unique story about building his home drew journalists from The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic, to name a few. Tom Johnston was not only a Bequia celebrity, but he was renowned.

Moonhole Today

Dried palm trees adorn Moonhole's entrance.
Dried palms decorate the Moon Hole entrance.

Today, because of the danger of Moonhole’s dilapidated condition, you can only see the original structure by boat. Unfortunately, the Moonhole community is private. A guard watches the gate and turns away anyone that’s uninvited or not a guest.

Moonhole Company Limited

Moon Hole Sign No trespassing
Unless you have permission to enter Moonhole, visitors are turned away.

In 1964, the Johnstons created the Moonhole Company Limited to ensure the preservation of the area. Though it had gone through litigation, the trust runs the community and rents some of Tom’s homes.

Moonhole Friends

While the Johnstons were living, not only did they employ Bequia locals, but they had left behind a charity, Moonhole Friends, to care for the poor. Tom’s project had helped the Bequian people in the past, and Moonhole Friends assist them today.

Moonhole Rentals

November to June is the high season, and some of the homes rent for $1,500 per week from July to October for two people, and $1,750 per week for two from November to June. The rentals come with a housekeeper that will cook.

moonhole homes from water
Moon Hole is a private community composed of odd looking homes.

If you would like to vacation in a rustic house surrounded by nature, you can rent one of the seven Moonhole homes that Moonhole Company Limited oversees. Furthermore, you can get a taste of the life that the Johnstons had lived.

Moonhole sits on the edge of the Caribbean
Today Tom and Gladdie Johnston’s home is condemned.

Today, in Moonhole electricity is produced by solar and wind power, and cisterns collect rainwater. My advice is that you bring mosquito repellent, a flashlight, sunscreen, and plenty of books. It will be an experience to write about.

Would you like to vacation in Moonhole and bond with nature? Please let me know your thoughts.

Related Articles:

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Protect Sea Turtles

https://dorothyadeletravels.com/celebrity-rich-mustique/

Reference:

Thomsen, T.C., (1988), Tales of Bequia. Cross River, NY: Cross River Press

http://www.moonholecompany.com

Two Traveling Texans

53 thoughts on “You Can Still Stay in Moonhole Bequia, SVG

  1. WOW, what a fascinating piece of architecture. I keep looking at your pictures and can’t figure out how they were able to do that… but it makes sense that they want to limit access to it! I can’t imagine trying to ride out the wind in one of those homes! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  2. Interesting place. So did you stay there or you just saw it from the boat? It’s cheaper than I would have expected to stay there. I think I would try it especially if it comes with a housekeeper/cook. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. Anissa, thank you for your comment, we stayed within a fifteen minute walk and when we tried to enter a guard stopped us at the gate.

  3. Very interesting read! I’ve never heard of this house of the man who built it! Such a shame though that it’s now unsafe and falling into ruin! Are they going to try to save it? Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. I don’t know that they will save it, but there are other homes in Moonhole that Tom built that people can rent. You can see them in some of the photos on my Moonhole post. The houses look interesting… Thank you for your comment.

  4. Oh how interesting and intriguing about Tom Johnston building his home in Moonhole on Bequia and having a lasting impact even though though it is dangerous. I would love to go here and take pictures.

    1. Thank you for your comment, and it is crazy, plus the fact that Tom Johnston didn’t have any training when he built Moonhole.

  5. This is such a fascinating story! I love old houses and dilapidated places. I think there is something romantic about them. And the whole Tom Johnston hippie character! Love it!

    1. Anna, thank you for commenting. It is a cool story and I especially like the part about the tax collector, Tom Johnston was a unique guy.

  6. OMG I just had to comment. I stay in SVG and this is so weird reading about where I live. I;m glad you enjoyed your stay

    1. Bel, We stayed on Bequia but not in Moonhole. We also visited Mustique and the Tobago Cays. We loved SVG

  7. This was such an interesting read. When I think of Caribbean, I think of beaches, etc. but it’s interesting to read stories like this. It’s a shame that it didn’t “preserve” as well as one would hope.

    1. Christine, thanks for reading, they did preserve several other Moonhole homes, you should check them out.​

  8. That is so interesting. I can totally see my husband doing something like this, although he has loads of building and engineering experience. It might not be such a bad place to live.

    1. Kathleen, since your husband has engineering experience, I wonder what he would have done differently with Moonhole.

  9. Oh my goodness. This is absolutely incredible. I’ve never heard of this place but now I want to see it! You really did a lot of research and tell the story very well. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I had read a book about Bequia before our visit, and I knew that I needed to visit Moonhole.

    1. Hannah, thank you for your comment, Tom Johnston definitely had forethought whe​n he built Moonhole.

  10. As a student of tax law, with my bar examination coming up, I was very interested in your blurb regarding the tax collector coming to asses the home. In the past, there were systems based on the number of windows a home had, and it’s interesting someone would be able to avoid property tax merely because part of their dwelling was a cliff face and not an actual wall. Interesting read!

    1. Thank you for reading, yes my sources say that Tom Johnston avoided taxes because they couldn’t actually define the rooms.

    1. You can check the Moonhole Limited website where they rent some of his other homes, they have photos there.

  11. That is an interesting story behind Moonhole! 🙂 And getting in isn’t that easy. I wonder is anyone has made a good video documentary on it.

  12. I LOVE THIS! What a totally bizarre and yet awesome story of Tom & his wife and this totally bizarre hippiesque house! Every time I look at your picture of the house of Moonhole on Bequia I keep thinking about how horrible it must have been during a storm or even worse Hurricane!
    I know so little of St Vincent & the Grenadines but I would love to sail around close enough to see Tom’s house or even catch the moon shining through the hole at night on a full moon night!

    1. Eric, thank you for your comment. I have seen photos online of the moon showing through Moonhole and it’s pretty cool. As far as bad weather, I too wonder what they did or if they went somewhere.

    1. Resfeber, several magazines ran articles on Moonhole, like you, until I read a book on Bequia, I had never heard of it either.

  13. Looks amazing! I have never considered St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a travel destination before, but now it will definitely be added to my ever growing list.

    1. Sam, thank you for your comment. We usually go to some of the other islands, but we love Bequia, so you should check it out.

  14. Such a cool place and story! I’m not sure if I wanted to spend there a week though – and it’s quite expensive (I’m a backpacker) but the idea is very romantic 🙂 and a bit eerie as now it looks abandoned!

    1. annakapys thanks for your comment, It is pricy ​and it does look eerie, Moonhole reminds me of a haunted house.

  15. What a fascinating read! WOW such a unique place and story. The creativity and courage to create not just the house, but the community, is astounding. Thanks for sharing this, I’m interested to learn more now!

  16. Sharing this post! I own a home on Bequia, since 1996, and was in several of the homes in Moonhole before ownership of the area changed, although it’s been almost a couple of decades now since that time. I didn’t know the tax story, but I do know taxes in SVG are based on the measurement of the outside walls of the house, so we do not pay for our rather large wrap-around verandah area (where I am sitting as I type this message). I do hope you make it back to Bequia some time and write more about the island!

    Cheers!
    Susan Toy

    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing my article. We loved Bequia and plan to return. We usually stay on Virgin Gorda, St. Barths or Anguilla, but this year we tried Bequia. We felt safe and had plenty to do. Thanks again!

      1. We only ever went to Virgin Gorda of those islands you mention. Then we came to Bequia in Jan. 1989 and kept coming back! The island has changed a lot since that time, but it’s still a good place to be.

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