Although technically not a great house, since it was never a part of a sugar plantation, the Devon House is certainly a magnificent house, lovingly cared for by the Jamaican Government as a heritage site. The house is located on the corner of two important streets, Hope Road and Waterloo Road. The property has a long and storied past going back to the 17th century. The property or glebe lands (land attached to the Anglican church building) was originally awarded to Rev. John Zellers in May 1667 in a letter of patent by King Charles II stating, “Land, meadow, pasture and woodlands…ye same containing 600 acres…together with all edifices, woods, trees, rents, commodities, ways and passages…and all mines and minerals whatsoever in ye premises.” Devon Penn (a livestock operation) was a part of the 600 acres. The rectory was built in the mid 1700s and Rev. George Eccles was the first minister to live in the rectory. The foundations of the rectory are believed to be part of the foundations of the present Devon House.
George Stiebel, the builder of the Devon House was born to a German Jew and a Jamaican housekeeper in the 1820s. At the age of fourteen, he became a carpenter’s apprentice and later his father gave him startup capital to purchase a ship which he used to transport goods, along with two other ships between North and South America. He also used his ships to run illegal guns into Cuba. In 1951, George married Magdalene Baker, the daughter of Moravian missionaries and they had two children. Five years after their marriage, while George was on one of his ships, all three ships were caught in a storm and sank near Venezuela. Fortunately, George had his money in a money belt around his waist and was able to make his way to shore. With the money, he bought a mule and goods and began again, this time as a peddler in the Venezuela gold fields. He was soon able to purchase a gold mine which became immensely successful and he became Jamaica’s first black millionaire. With the death of his son, he moved back to Jamaica where he purchased 99 properties which included two sugar plantations, a wharf at Church Street and Minard Pen in Saint Ann. Magdalene Stiebel died in 1892 and George followed in 1896 at the age of seventy-five.
In 1881, he commissioned contractor Charles P. Lazarus to build Devon House. He was one of three millionaires to construct grand houses at the corners of Trafalgar Road and Hope Road, which caused this to be called Millionaire’s Corner. Over the next eleven years, the Stiebel lived a generous life style throwing lavish parties for their family and friends. This required the services of four gardeners, two house maids, a butler, cook, laundress, grooms and a coachman. The family owned the house until 1922, when it was purchase by Cecil Lindo who held it until his death in 1960. The property was sold and was destined to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings when it was purchased by the Jamaican Government. Today, it is open for tours Monday through Friday (unfortunately it is not open on Saturday). The servants’ quarters have been converted in to small shops.
It is easy to find the Devon House and just about everyone in Kingston can point you in the right direction. The most popular place to go at Devon House is the Devon House I Scream where one can choose between 27 different types of ice cream. There is also The Brick Oven (pastries), several specialty shops and a couple of restaurants. For more information see http://devonhousejamaica.com
Devon House Architectural Layout
Devon House Photo Gallery