When Emilio Wilson once was asked on video why he didn’t sell his land to foreign developers and make millions of dollars, he chuckled and replied that the land belonged to St. Maarten.
“He lived in the old way,” commented Rueben Thompson, member of the boards of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation and of DCNA. “He respected our culture and our traditions.”
Emilio made it clear that he wanted his estate to be preserved as a natural area for the people of the island to enjoy. The government’s commitment this month to purchase 36.8 ha (91 ac) of the Emilio Wilson Estate is the next step in that process.
“We need a place for people to go to enjoy green open spaces,” Thompson said, “to learn about our culture and our heritage.” Thompson said Wilson envisioned his land as that space.
According to interviews, research by Mathias S. Voges, Emilio Johan Wilson was born in Santo Domingo on August 28, 1911 to Marie Victorine Wilson of St. Maarten and John Nathaniel Molineaux of Tortola BVI. Emilio, or Milio as he was known to friends, moved to St. Maarten at a young age and he attended public school in Little Bay before transferring to the Oranje School in Philipsburg around 1920.
At age 16, Emilio began working in a tailor shop in Philipsburg. After working as a tailor for some years, he quit and found work chopping wood to make charcoal and collecting rocks for construction.
In 1929, the van Romondt-Rodenhuis family employed Emilio as a watchman at their Industry and Golden Rock estate in Dutch Cul de Sac. Emilio soon began delivering milk, butter and beef to people in Philipsburg and the surrounding areas.
On August 10, 1954, Emilio Wilson bought the estate from the Romondt-Rodenhuis family for 25,000 Guilders, after which the family left the island. Emilio then worked as a salesman in the Van Romondt’s grocery store and later for Charles T. Vlaun and Chester Wathey.
During his life, Emilio kept his estate intact and in relatively the same state as it had been for centuries. He did not allow anyone to destroy the many ruins on the property or to build on the estate.
A generous man, Emilio had more than 80 godchildren and raised at least 10 children, none of whom where his own. He was known for his willingness to help out those in need, allowing a tent village to be erected on his property for Hurricane Luis victims and allowing the property to be used for social and agricultural projects. Between the 1960’s and 1990’s, he allowed the land to be used for Easter egg hunts and children’s parties.
Emilio loved St. Maarten and its natural and cultural heritage and made known his desire that the estate be protected from further building development. Numerous local organizations, including the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation, St. Maarten Nature Foundation and DCNA, have been working together for years to try to ensure that Emilio’s legacy to the people of St. Maarten is protected and managed for this generation and generations to come.
“I believe he was a visionary,” Thompson said. “He realized St. Maarten was becoming overdeveloped and that we needed a place for us as a people to learn about our heritage.”