The first property I visited today was at the end of a long trip from Kingston to Windsor. The further I drove back into Cockpit country; the road became narrower and eventually became a one lane road from Coxheath to the hamlet of Windsor. Evident, along the road, as I drove deeper into Cockpit Country, was the karst topography (a landscape that was formed by the dissolution of the soluble limestone). The large white rugged limestone cliffs contrasted sharply to the bordering lush green valleys. It is a place where rivers flow sometimes above and sometimes below the surface due to the porous limestone. The town of Windsor was established in recent times when Kaiser Aluminum transplanted the people from Saint Ann Parish to Windsor in Trelawny Parish. Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100 meter and 200 meter races, Jamaica’s fastest man in the world and local hero, was born here. Most of the people have left the area. At the end of the paved road, at the Windsor Cave “office”, I asked direction of the local cave tour guide and he pointed to the left and told me to follow the dirt track. The great house soon came in sight. It’s not really a great house, but a pen. The term “great house” is only meant for the “big” house of sugar plantations. This was the “big” house of a cattle operation. Cattle operations were very important, because cattle were a vital aspect of a sugar estate. Cattle were used to transport the sugar cane to the mill and in many operations were the motive power of the mill. Many times the same owner possessed both estates and pens. In this case, John Tharp (For more information on the Tharp family, see the Potosi post), who owned most of the plantations along the Martha Brea River. He purchased the 5,500 acre Windsor plantation in the late seventeenth century. The flattest land and land closest to the port of Falmouth was planted in cane. The more rugged terrain and areas furthest from the port were used for pens, due to the mobility of the cattle. The overseer of the pen lived in the house. After John Tharp’s death, William Tharp, his nephew arrived in Jamaica in 1828 and stayed ten years. After his departure and emancipation, the estates were neglected, broken up and sold in 1867.
William James Donald-Hill moved to Jamaica from Scotland in approximately 1892 and purchased Windsor for the first time in about 1892. He sold it in the late 1800’s and moved back to Scotland. After a few winters in cold Scotland, he moved his family back to Jamaica and purchased Windsor Pen again in the early 1900’s and his family lived in the house until about 1947 when the pen was sold to Miriam Rothschild who carried out extensive renovations to the house and subsequently sold it to Kaiser Aluminum who subdivided it for the transplanted farmers from Saint Ann Parish. The house was given to the Jamaica Boy Scouts by Kaiser Aluminum and eventually they sold it to Michael Schwartz who presently lives in the house.
The ruins to the rear of the house were the original buildings built between the two Maroon Wars (between 1739 and 1795) due to its strategic location at the end of the Troy-Windsor trail. The British military built the fort to deny the Maroons access to the Martha Brae River. The house property is surrounded by the ruins of the walls. It’s thought that the existing building ruin was either a military hospital or a storage facility. Michael Schwartz is in the process of stabilizing the ruins.
The house is constructed of square-cut stone that have been coated with stucco and painted the color of yellow ocher. The wooden trim is painted white. A porch extends out from the second floor front door and is reached by a sweeping stone stairway. The first floor, as required by law at the time, was built as a fort with numerous gun ports in the ground floor walls. This served as both a defense against rebellious slaves and warring Maroons. The stone work is very evident on the interior of the first floor with numerous arched doorways. William James Donald-Hill carved his initials in the door frame of one of the doors and the date 1812 was carved during the Tharp ownership. The main living quarters are on the second floor to take advantage of the cooling mountain breezes. The original hip roof (?) was constructed of cedar shakes, but at the present time the cedar shakes are covered with corrugated metal. Miriam Rothschild removed the wooden louvers from the front of the house, but these have been restored by the present owner. She added the upstairs flush toilets, built a large upstairs screened in verandah at the back of the house with stone steps from the ground and the main entrance gates to the property were moved from the front to the east side. In the 1950’s, the kerosene lamps were replaced by electrical power provided by two single cylinder diesel generators. Today, power is supplied by solar cells installed on the roof of the house.
Because of its location in the heart of the Cockpit Country, the Windsor Pen has been used by researchers since at least 1920. Harold E. Anthony (mammologist at the American Museum of Natural History of New York) says in his 1919-1920 field notes, “Windsor is at the end of the road, the best jumping off place for the Cockpit Country and best sort of collecting station. The hills are of the Cock Pit variety and close right in on the Windsor Pen. The one drawback are the miscellaneous pests. The ticks are terrible and the mosquitoes only a little less bad. The latter however are day bitters and the nights are serene.” During the 1950’s Dame Miriam Rothschild conducted her research on mammalian ectoparasites in Windsor Cave and published her “Fleas, Flukes and Cuckoos” in 1952 while living at Windsor Pen.
Michael Schwartz and Susan Koenig operate the Windsor Great House as their home and a research center for scientists interested in the unique attributes of the Cockpit Country. One of the best ways to get a real feel for the Cockpit Country is to go to Windsor in the evening for a “Meet the Biologists” dinner. There are several rooms to provide lodging and meals are available on request.
Due to my many years as a mine reclamation engineer, having restored over three thousand acres of phosphate mining in central Florida, I promised Michael I would address the issue of mining in the Cockpits. I have found that mine operators want to work on a “level playing field” with their competitors. If reclamation is required, they want their competition to be required to reclaim at the same level as they are required. This means that meaningful regulations need to be passed by the government entity that has jurisdiction over mining operations. Additionally, those regulations need to be equally and justly administered in accordance with the spirit and rule of law. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Jamaica has either the laws in place or the will to enforce those regulations; therefore I can understand Michael’s opposition to any mining in Cockpit Country.
A tremendous amount of information can be gleaned from the excellent website: CockPitCountry.com. Michael can be reached by telephone at 876-997-3832 or email at Windsor@cwjamaica.com.