In 1936 Joseph and Helen Bruce-Holmes bought Spring Hill Plantation (now the Asa Wright Nature Centre) from the government, which acquired it in default of taxes. Mr. Holmes, an oilfield engineer, was particularly interested in the property because of the very accessible Oilbird Cave. They renovated the plantation house, and lived in their “Garden of Eden” until after World War II, when they returned to the United States.
The plantation suffered from neglect, and eventually it was sold to Newcombe and Asa Wright. As Mr. Wright was “sickly,” his wife Asa, a strong, confident, Icelandic woman, managed the plantation. At the same time the Wrights bought Spring Hill, William Beebe of the New York Zoological Society, acquired the adjoining plantation, Simla, as a Field Station for the study of the New World Tropics. Because of the well-known Oilbird Cave, Asa Wright became the hostess to numerous visiting scientists, including David Snow, who studied the resident oilbirds for over four years, and John Dunston, a local entomologist, who helped protect the colony from poachers (the Cave is named in his memory). Springhill began to gain international attention because of its ease of access to spectacular wildlife, and Asa Wright became an innkeeper to visitors from around the world.
About this time, Newcombe died, leaving Asa Wright with dwindling financial resources. As she aged it became difficult for her to maintain the plantation, a source of concern for the many conservationists from around the world. William Beebe died and Simla fell into disrepair. Fortunately, a small group formed to do something to save these treasures. In 1967, Don Eckelberry, a renowned wildlife artist, Erma Fisk, a prominent ornithologist and conservationist, and Russell Mason of Florida Audubon Society raised money to buy Spring Hill. A non-profit Trust administered by the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Co., and an international Board of Management composed of 11 Trinidadians and 10 foreign members was set up to establish the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Its purpose was to provide a Centre open to the public for recreation and the study of tropical wildlife, as well as to preserve the wildlife and rainforest of the Arima Valley.
Asa Wright lived at the Centre untill she died in 1971. Shortly thereafter the New York Zoological Society gave the Asa Wright Nature Centre the Simla Research Center, and it has been a Tropical Research facility until the present time.
Further Reading . . .
A History Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Centre
by James Fuller.