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Cherry Garden Great House

On my Saturday hike, I decided to explore a different part of Kingston.  In the past, I headed straight up into the mountains directly behind my house, but today I wandered up into the mountains farther to the west into the Norbrook area.  As I hiked up Russell Heights, on into the Cherry Garden residential area, I noticed a house that had the look of a great house.  I took several photographs in order to compare them with what I found online.  Sure enough, I discovered when I returned that it was indeed Cherry Garden Great House.

Colonel Ezekiel Gomersall originally established the Cherry Garden sugar estate.  His place of burial is the Kingston Parish Church with the following inscription on his tomb:

HERE LYETH  INTERR’D THE BODY OF THE HONOURABLE EZEKIEL GOMESSAL ESQR ONE OF HIS MAJESTIES COUNCEL AND COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT OF HORSE WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE 12 DAY OF APRIL ANNO 1734 AGED 70 YEARS.

In addition, on his wife’s tomb:

HERE LYETH THE BODY OF THE VIRTUOUS MRS MARY GOMERSALL, WIFE OF COLO. EZEKIEL GOMERSALL, AND DAUGHTER OF FRANCIS AND MARGARET DICKENSON. SHE DEPARTED THIS LIFE, THE 1st OF DECEMBER 1723, IN THE 56th YEAR OF HER AGE, AND IN THE 36th YEAR OF HER MARRIAGE.

Following Colonel Gomersall’s death, the property passed onto his nephew, Ezekiel Dickenson and the property remained in the hands of the Dickenson family and was administered by Attorney Joseph Gordon of Scotland.  Prior to emancipation, Joseph Gordon (1790-1867) managed over thirty plantations with over eight thousand slaves.  He eventually purchased the estate from the Dickensons and added additional adjacent lands.  Joseph Gordon eventually became Custos and Member of the House of Assembly for St. Andrew Parish.

GordonOne of his sons, George William Gordon (1820-1865) was born the illegitimate son of Anna Rattrey (1792-1863), a slave on the Cherry Garden Estate.  George was privately educated and then sent to Black River to be educated in business under his Godfather James Daly.  He was a quick learner, which led to speculation in real estate, and he exported produce.  He eventually purchased numerous coffee and sugar plantations and at the time of his death, he owned nineteen properties.  He married Mary Jane Shannon, the white daughter of an Irish newspaper editor.  In 1844, George entered politics and was elected a Member of the House of Assembly for St. Thomas-in-the-East.  He was a member of the liberal Town Party, which was made up of colored and Jewish merchants, newspaper editors and lawyers.  The Town Party was in direct opposition to the conservative Country Party made up of the white planters.  The Country Party held the majority of seats in the Assembly.

When his father, Joseph Gordon went bankrupt in 1845, George was able to come to the rescue and saved Cherry Garden from foreclosure.  George paid all the expenses for his father and stepmother to return to England and then George and Mary Jane took up residence at the Cherry Garden Great House.  George Gordon became a champion of the impoverished ex-slaves, particularly in the Saint-Thomas-in-the-East Parish.  He also left the Anglican Church and became a Baptist.  In 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion, he was unjustly tried for treason and executed on 23 October 1865.  His widow sold the property in the late 1860’s.  Jamaica now considers George William Gordon one of their national heroes.

Oscar Marescaux, a powerful local banker, purchased the property in the late 1860’s.  He extended and roofed the front and back patios and paneled the interior with mahogany.  Mr. Marescaux was a very tall man, over six feet, long thin legs, hunched-up shoulders with a growth of beard after the style of a Frenchman. Many considered him irascible and arrogant. His views on natives of the country were narrow and prejudiced.

The great house is an impressive two-story structure.  The main entrance has a double bifurcated stairs that ascend to the entrance portico.  Four cast iron columns support the portico, which forms a second story observation deck surrounded by intricate railings and topped by a classic pediment. Marble covers the floor of the entrance porch.  One impressive architectural feature is the use of Jalousie windows to allow excellent ventilation and illumination into the house.

If you want a view of the great house, head up hill from Barbican Road on Russell Heights and when the road makes a sharp left, the house will be straight ahead of you.

Cherry Garden Great House Photo Gallery

Cherry Garden Great House Location Map

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Craighton Estate Great House and Coffee Company

Our Visit to the Craighton Estate Great House

The day started out as a day trip to Holywell Recreational Park high above Kingston, with lunch at the world famous Strawberry Hill boutique hotel. On the way up Highway B1, I saw sign for Craighton Blue Mountain Coffee Estate. I had previously read about the great house but there was no indication of its location except that it is in Saint Andrew Parish. At that point, the day’s itinerary was completely turned on its head as I turned the truck up the narrow one lane road to the great house. I drove onto a gravel parking lot (car park in Jamaican) in front of the wood pink with white trim Georgian great house. Bonita and I climbed the stairs to the large front porch. There we met Alton (Junior) Bedward our tour guide and Craighton coffee expert. The sun was shining brightly, but mists were rolling down from the mountains above. Junior explained that the mist, along with the volcanic soil, cool temperatures, high altitude and steep slopes combine to make a world renown coffee that is alkaline, full bodied, naturally sweet with no bitter after-taste. Only Arabica Typica coffee plants produce this type of coffee…a type for which Starbucks is famous.

Junior then took us on a short tour of the three hundred acre estate where 400,000 coffee plants are grown. He explained that the best coffee is produced by new growth, so every seven years the trees are cut down and allowed to sprout new growth. The tree is finally dug up and a new seedling is planted every thirty-five years. The plants are fertilized with either chicken manure or leaves from the Gongo trees planted among the coffee trees. The Gongo tree is a legume and the falling leaves fertilize the plants with nitrogen. The coffee is harvested by hand between September and January every year by two hundred harvesters who scramble up and down the steep hills. The permanent labor force runs between thirty and fifty. Following the harvesting, the cherries are placed in water and the “floaters” are skimmed off and discarded. Junior then went into detail about the processing of the beans through roasting and bagging for export to Japan. For those mortals who would like to purchase the coffee in their local supermarket, are sure to be disappointed unless they live in Japan. The entire crop is shipped off to Japan to be sold for ten times the price that could be gotten at a supermarket in the United States. The Jamaica Blue Mountain Number One coffee is sold in Japan for US$1,500 for a five-pound bag.

History of Coffee

Junior then gave us a history of coffee:

  1. Kaffe is indigenous to the highlands of Ethiopia.
  2. The Ottoman Empire monopolized the coffee trade in the 1500’s.
  3. It was against Roman Catholic doctrine to drink coffee because it was under the control of Muslims. In 1615, the Pope blessed and baptized some coffee, making it legal to purchase and drink.
  4. Coffee is only produced between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
  5. Seven plants were loaded on a ship and brought to the Caribbean. Only one plant survived the trip to Martinique but from there the coffee spread to the other French countries and eventually found its way to Jamaica from Haiti.
  6. The growers first exported coffee from Jamaica in 1737. Over 85% of coffee grown in Jamaica is exported.

After the informative climb to the nearest mountain top we walked back down and roamed through the beautiful, well cared for house. We first entered into the living room. To the right is the dining room with a large chandelier over the dining room table. To the left are the bed rooms. The kitchen is in the back of the house. A spectacular stairway leads to the first floor. The Craighton Estate was established in 1765 by a Scottish-Italian emigrant. George Craighton built the great house in 1805 at 2,600 feet elevation. The house has been privately owned since its construction and today, Tatsushi Ueshima, the largest coffee importer in Japan, owns the building and estate. Several Jamaican governors have used the house as a retreat from the summer Kingston heat. The house is used for the tours and offices.

Following the tour, Junior treated us a sample of the Craighton Blue Mountain coffee and we were able to purchase bags of the products. We sampled the famous beverage, which was brought out in white cups and saucers. True to Junior’s description, according to Bonita, it had a smooth, rich taste with a distinct aroma. There is a mild bitterness (“it is never sour,” Junior says) a bit like chocolate and it is naturally sweet with no lingering aftertaste. One cup of Blue Mountain coffee contains less than 25 mg of caffeine, far less than the 150-175 mg in the average cup of Robusta, grown in lower elevations. You can contact the Jamaica UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Company by phone: (876) 944-8033. You can contact Junior Bedward by cell phone: (876) 292-3774 or email: beddalton@hotmail.com

To get to Craighton Estate, take Highway B1 from Old Hope Road, past Redlight, Irish Town and Strawberry Hill. The entrance will be well marked, on the right, if you are coming from the south. If coming from the north, it is below the New Castle Army Post. The road is narrow and winding so be prepared for anything coming at you from the opposite direction.

Following the tour, you can enjoy lunch at the incomparable Strawberry Hill Hotel restaurant or better yet stay in one of their magnificent cottages.

 

“Mountaineering in Jamaica”. From an Engraving by S. T. Dadd after Sketches by B. S. Tucker, published in The Illustrated and Sporting News, February 23rd, 1888. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

A Party of Gentlemen are shown mustering at Craigton Great House, which is described as “the Governor’s cottage”, then start off on the road past St. Mark’s Anglican Church near Irish Town, skirt some dangerous precipices, and then arrive at their final destination which I assume must be Blue Mountain Peak.

Craighton Great House, near Irish Town in St. Andrew, was originally known as Creighton Hall and was built between 1790 and 1805 by George Creighton, Esq., a Scottish Coffee Planter, on his 400 acre Coffee Plantation. Perched over 2,700 feet up in the cool, misty Blue Mountains of Jamaica, it has one of the most panoramic views in the Island. In 1810 George Creighton was listed as owning 39 Slaves at Creighton Hall, but he died later that same year and by 1811 the plantation had been purchased by Sir Edward Hyde East, who also owned the vast adjoining Maryland Coffee Plantation with over 2,700 acres and more than 260 slaves. Creighton Hall, later renamed Craigton, remained in the possession of the East family until 1842 when the Hon. Hinton East, Custos of St. Andrew, finally sold the plantation to the newly arrived British Governor, the 8th Earl of Elgin. Anxious to escape the heat and humidity of Spanish Town, the official Capital of Jamaica located on the St. Catherine plains far below, Lord Elgin purchased Craigton Great House as a Summer Residence and it later became a favourite Summer Residence of the British Governors of Jamaica. Tragically Lord Elgin’s beautiful new young wife, Elizabeth, Countess of Elgin, died while at Craigton on the 7th of June, 1843, aged only 22. Her Duppy (Ghost) is said to still haunt the house and she has sometimes been seen descending the grand mahogany staircase. When Lord Elgin left Jamaica in 1846 he sold Craigton to a Mr. Edwards, a British Coffee Planter, who was probably a relation of Sir Bryan Edwards, Chief Justice of Jamaica from 1855 to 1869. His widow, Mrs. May Edwards, was the owner of Craigton Great House, (which she renamed The Medici), when this Watercolour was painted in 1862. She died in 1866 and left Craigton to her daughter, Marjorie Grant Edwards, who through her Trustee, John James Henry Edwards, sold it in 1867 to another newly arrived British Governor, Sir John Peter Grant. Sir John loved Craigton and he spent a great deal of money enlarging the Great House and also improving the Garden, filling it with rare Trees, Plants and Flowers imported from all over the world. Sir John also purchased two pet Sheep to keep the grass short on the Front Lawn. The famous English Victorian Painter, Marianne North, who was a guest at Craigton in 1871, wrote that Sir John had actually trained these two Sheep to come up to the verandah of the Great House and stand on their hind legs to beg for carrots, a trick which amused him to no end. Subsequent British Governors of Jamaica, Sir Henry Norman from 1883 to 1889 and Sir Henry Arthur Blake from 1889 to 1898, also made Craigton their Summer Residence and many elegant Dinner Parties and Garden Parties were held there during those times. The next occupant of Craigton Great House was a Judge Curran who lived there from 1891 to 1901 and he was followed by Sir Charles Lumb, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Jamaica, who lived there from 1901 to 1905. On the 29th of September, 1905, Craigton Great House, with its 29 acres and all is furniture and glassware, was transferred to the Hon. Archibald Edmund Henderson Haggart, Custos of Kingston, of Ruthven Lodge, St. Andrew, for the sum of 420 pounds sterling. Haggart used Craigton as his Summer Cottage. When the firm of Haggart and Company went bankrupt in 1917, Craigton was then sold to Franz X. Knecht, the Managing Director of the West Indies Chemical Works Ltd. near Spanish Town. In the early 1930s Craigton was resold to Judge Seaton, who in 1938 leased it for 5 years (at 100 pounds sterling a year) to Sir Robert Kirkwood, the nephew of Lord Lyle of Tate and Lyle Ltd., the British company which owned vast Sugar Plantations in Jamaica.(Their Partners, the Tate family of Tate & Lyle, were the Founders of the famous Tate Gallery and Museum in London). Sir Robert was the Managing Director of the West Indies Sugar Company (WISCO) and also the Chairman of the Jamaica Sugar Manufacturers Ltd. When the lease on Craigton ended after the 5 years, he bought the property from Judge Seaton for 5,000 pounds sterling. Sir Robert and Lady Kirkwood entertained many famous guests at Craigton during the 1940s and 1950s, including members of the British Royal family, before finally selling the Great House in 1956 for 25,000 pounds sterling, making a hefty 20,000 pounds profit in the bargain. Later occupants of Craigton Great House have included Lord Hailes, British Governor-General of the short-lived West Indies Federation, who made it his official residence in Jamaica in 1958. In 1981 Craigton was sold to the Ueshima Coffee Company of Japan who still own the plantation. They grow Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, the finest and most expensive Coffee in the world, for export to Japan. They have restored the 18th Century Craigton Great House and furnished it with a fine collection of 18th and Early 19th Century Jamaican Colonial Prints and Antique Mahogany Furniture.

Craighton House Photo Gallery

Location Map | Craighton Estate Great House

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Devon House

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

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Devon House Photo Gallery

Devon House Location Map

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