Archive | Saint Ann RSS for this section

Mount Plenty Great House

A couple of months back I visited the Bromley Pen and during our visit, Johnathan Edwards, the owner of Bromley mentioned that there were other two great houses in the area, Bellevue and Mount Plenty. Therefore, when I called, the owner didn’t seem surprised to hear from me. We were headed back to Kingston from the north coast the following day so I called and received a gracious invitation from the owners of Mount Plenty to come and visit.   We had sketchy directions to the farm. We started at Walkerswood and by phone the owner guided us through the twists and turns to their beautiful home. We passed through two stone columns marked Mount Plenty and up a gravel driveway. On either side was the well tended pasture populated by Jamaica Red Poll beef cattle.   The owners met us on their side porch and gave us a tour of their home. Bonita, my artist wife and Laura, who is also an artist, discussed each other’s art. I was particularly interested in the operation of the ranch. We also discussed how the owners are involved in raising funds for the Boy’s Town School in Trench Town as well as their involvement in the local schools.

Both Mount Plenty and Bellevue properties are adjacent and part of the same farm. They are perched near the top of the local mountains and the property plunges five hundred feet to the White River Gorge, which is the parish line between Saint Ann and Saint Mary Parishes. At a narrow part of the gorge, a slim arched bridge crosses the river. It is part of the original El Camino Real (The King’s Road) which stretched from Rio Nuevo to Spanish Town. The locals have always called the bridge, The Spanish Bridge.

Mount Plenty was long the home of John Hiatt, the Custos (Superintendent) of Saint Ann Parish who was born in 1722 and died in 1820 at the age of ninety-eight. John Hiatt’s 1820 probate inventory following his death is eighteen pages long with details of the slaves, livestock, produce (pimento, citrus and coffee, furniture, fixtures down to the last branding iron and mosquito net). Later, Mount Plenty was owned by Thomas Roxburgh, a reputed son of King Edward VII, his descendant Frank Roxburgh and Pat and Bernard Cooke. Mount Plenty is famous for the breeding of race houses. Mount Plenty boasts the original polo field in Jamaica where polo was played over one hundred years before it became popular in England.

Mount Plenty Great House is a three story building. The basement is constructed of square-cut stone, the walls of which act as the foundation for the wooden two stories above the basement. The second story is reached from the front by stone stairs and a wrought iron banister on either side. A pedimented portico projects from the hip roof to form the verandah for the main entrance. Like most vernacular buildings in Jamaica, the verandah wrapped around the building but it has been closed in by successive owners. The woodwork above the front door and front windows is magnificent. The lower half of the second floor is clad with wood shingles, painted green and the upper half consisting of louvers and sash windows is painted white. The third floor is the attic that has within it a sweeping cedar shingle hip roof with dormers that create additional habitable space. To the rear is a pimento barbeque that was used to solar dry Jamaica’s indigenous Pimenta dioica, the world renowned pimento or allspice. The second floor has been converted into an art gallery where the owner displays her works.

Mount Plenty Great House Photo Gallery

Mount Plenty Location Map

Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate

Cranbrook Pen is now the location of Cranbrook Flower Forest Nature Park. The Spanish began settling the area in 1494. The area of Cranbrook was extensively settled by the Spanish. They produced sugar there and raised cattle that provided a large amount of the cured beef, hides and tallow to provision the ships that carried the Conquistadors on their invasions of Central and South America. Cranbrook Pen was also near the site of a Spanish sugar mill prior to the invasion of the English. The English came in 1655 and moved onto the Spanish ranches in the area naming the cattle operation Cranbrook Pen and naming the sugar estate Blenheim Estate. The earliest reference to Cranbrook is found in the 1818 Jamaica Almanac. In the historical record, the property is attached to the Blenheim estate suggesting it was owned by the same persons throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. In 1809 John Moffat owned both Cranbrook and Blenheim estates along with 338 slaves and 29 cattle. Between 1818 and 1938 there are four persons named as owners: John Moffat, Robert Robinson, D.L Townsend and C. Calder. In 1857 the size of Cranbrook and Blenheim was 980 acres and by 1938 it was reduced to 841 acres. Cranbrook was primarily a pen which raised cattle for the operation of the Blenheim sugar estate. It was also partially used at a pimento plantation and the supply of ground provisions.

800px-Blenheim_Palace_cropped

At the entrance to Cranbrook Flower Forest are the restored remains of an old sugar mill. The mill is believed to be around 200 years old and now houses a museum and a gift shop. We were able to walk through the beautiful gardens bordering Little River admiring the flowers and other foliage. Numerous peacocks on the property rewarded us with their magnificent array of tail feathers.

As we drove back toward the north road (A-1) I noticed a brick smoke stack due north of Cranbrook Pen. Knowing that Cranbrook Pen was attached to Blenheim Estate, I assume that the smoke stack belonged to the sugar mill on that estate. This parcel of land bordered the Caribbean Sea. Additionally, there were stone ruins behind the cattle pens that looked like it might have been a great house and the kitchen to the rear. This will probably require additional research to confirm this bit of information. In any event, I have included the photographs of the Blenheim (?) Estate buildings along with the Cranbrook pen photos. This Blenheim Estate should not be confused with the home town of Alexander Bustamante in Hanover Parish. Blenheim is named for Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire England. It was given to John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough by a grateful nation for his victory at Blenheim over the French and Bavarians during the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1704. It has been in the possession of the Spencer-Churchill family for over three hundred years. It was the birth place and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. Judging by the photos below of the two buildings, the owner of the Jamaican Blenheim never achieved the illusions of grandeur he anticipated for his estate.

Cranbrook

Cranbrook Gardens is located five kilometers west of the town of Priory on the north road A-1. Turn toward the mountains (away from the sea) and travel a short distance on a poorly maintained road to the garden entrance.

Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate Photo Gallery

Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate Location Map

Parish-Map-Saint-Ann

Shaw Great House

Shaw Great House

It was going to be easy to visit the Shaw Great House. After all, according to the Lonely Planet Jamaica Guide, “Shaw Park Gardens is a tropical fantasia of ferns and bromeliads, palms and exotic shrubs, spread out over 11 hectares centered on an 18th century great house.” It was even located on a map. We followed the map and soon realized this was the wrong way. We asked the locals and they suggested we could either climb down the steep bank, wade across a river and hanging by vines, scale the vertical bank on the other side OR drive around to Milford Road and turn right at the high school. After several dead ends we made it up the hill to the Shaw Park Gardens. I got out of our vehicle and told the tour guide that I would like to visit the Great House. He looked at me with a puzzled look and told me, “There is no great house here.”

“But the guide book says there is a great house here,” I said.

“Nope, nothing but the gardens.”

“Right here in the Lonely Planet Guidebook, it says, ‘This is a tropical fantasia of ferns and bromeliads, palms and exotic shrubs, spread out over 11 hectares centered on an 18th century great house.’

“Sorry no great house.”

“And here on the Jamaica Travel and Culture website it says, ‘Shaw Park Gardens were originally part of the Shaw Park Estate, an opulent property named after its first owner, John Shaw. The estate came into prominence after it was sold to the Pringle family in the early 20th century. The Great House was converted into a hotel, the Shaw Park Hotel. Flora McKenzie Pringle Stewart lovingly cultivated the hotel’s garden. It is these gardens which are now Shaw Park Gardens.’”

“No great house.”

Presently the security guard walked up and heard the conversation and replied, “I remember, as a boy, the great house but it burned down in the 1950s.”

Ahh, so it goes, hunting for great houses in Jamaica. Sometimes I find them in pristine conditions and other times, just ruins barely visible in the undergrowth or in this case burned to the ground.

Shaw Great House Location Map

Parish-Map-Saint-Ann

Seville Great House

Seville Great House

My oldest son, Raul, and I visited the Seville Great House in 2013. The Government of Jamaica has recently renovated the 301 acre Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park and they have done a marvelous job on not only the house but also the surrounding out buildings.

Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica on May 5, 1494, and landed near the present heritage park. Christopher Columbus was shipwrecked and stranded in the area between 1503 and 1504. In 1508, the Spanish government gave Jamaica to the Columbus family and they made Christopher’s son, Diego, Governor of the West Indies. One year later, Diego Columbus’ lieutenant arrived on the island and began the construction of Seville la Nueva (New Seville). Columbus planned a grand city. This was the first Spanish town on Jamaica and became the first capital. A fort, cathedral, a governor’s palace and a sugar works were built. Later they moved the town to higher ground away from the mosquito breeding mangrove swamps and sixteen years later, the capital was moved again to Saint Jago de la Vega (now called Spanish Town) on the south coast.

In 1655, the English beat the Spanish at the Battle of Rio Nuevo and the Spanish left the island for Cuba. As a reward for his role in defeating the Spanish, Captain Samuel Hemmings was granted 2,500 acres of land in 1670, which included Seville la Nueva. In 1745, Hemmings’ grandson built a great house on the site of the original house as well as a slave village and a successful sugar works.

Hemmings built the house with two stories, but a hurricane blew the top story off about 1898 and it was never replaced. The structure is of waddle and daub construction with wood floors and English tiles. The doors are constructed of raised panel mahogany. The slash windows were later modified to include jalousies. The interior of the house has mahogany arches that separate the living and dining rooms. A veranda was constructed across the entire length of the north and east sides of the house to allow adequate ventilation and sunlight. There is a projected entrance portico with stone steps. The roof had a covering of cedar shingles. Additionally, a typical slave hut has been constructed on the property. Inside, an excellent museum has been arranged showing the life and times of eighteenth century Jamaica plantation life. One can also view the ruins of the sugar works.

The Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park is located adjacent to the north road A-1, approximately 12 kilometers west of Ocho Rios and approximately 1 kilometer west of the town of Saint Ann’s Bay. It is well signed and well worth the trip if you are in the area. The guided tour costs US$15 for adult tourists and US$6 for a child. For locals the price is JA$800 for adults and JA$300 for a child.

Topographical View of the Great House, Sugar Works and Slave Village at Seville Estate, St. Ann, Jamaica. Detail from an extremely rare Late 17th Century or Early 18th Century Map of the Harbour of St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica, dating between 1690 and 1722. Collection: The National Library, Kingston, Jamaica.

Seville Great House, St. Ann, Jamaica. Built in 1745 by Capt. Richard Hemming. From an Original Photograph, c. 1905. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins

Seville Great House Photo Gallery

Seville Great House Location Map

Seville-Great-House-Location-Jamaica

Bromley Pen

Our Visit to Bromley Pen

Bonita and I made our way from Kingston to Spanish Town and then to the T-3 toll road. The toll road was a pleasant surprise, a four lane, divided highway up over the worst of the mountains dividing north Jamaica from south Jamaica. The rest of toll road is being constructed and someday it will make an easy trip from Kingston to Ocho Rios. At the end of the toll road, we passed Moneague College and followed narrow winding roads to Bromley Pen near Walkers Wood, home of Walkers Wood Jerk Seasonings and condiments. We almost missed the turn, through two stone gate posts, but there was no mistaking the gorgeous house situated at the top of the hill. We parked our pickup truck, walked through the beautiful tropical gardens to the front door and there we met Johnathan Edwards at the top of the mountains that overlook the hamlet of Walkers Wood.

Bromley was established as a nine hundred acre pen in the 1700s to supply the local plantations with meat. It was one of many properties, which included sugar estates and pens owned by Sir John Pringle, a doctor and Johnathan’s great grandfather, who moved from Scotland in the 1850s. Over the following years, Sir John acquired over thirty properties and became the largest landowner in Jamaica. Bromley Pen is the last of those estates. Johnathan educated us on the finer points of the difference between a great house and pen. A great house was associated with sugar plantations, whereas a pen was the associated with the raising of livestock. The new owners built Bromley Pen on the foundations of a Spanish fort that had excellent views of the trail (now the road) that connected north and south Jamaica. Mr. Edwards showed us the loop holes (holes in the walls to aim a rifle at an enemy) in what is now the basement. Over the years, the past owners added the upper part of the house with its wooden structure with a wraparound verandah and many windows to allow the cool mountain breezes to pass through the building. At the front of the house is an elegant porte cochere (a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through but now used a grand staircase) with square wooden columns. There is a large octagonal bay area fixed with louver windows and lattice work above the windows. The house is forest green and white. ‘The owners still use Bromley as their residence and have several retreats for the arts and yoga during the year from the US and Canada.  They can be contacted at their website at http://bromleyjamaica.com or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BromleyJamaica.

Mrs. James Rose (1748-1811), nee Elizabeth Bromley Rose, daughter of William Rose II of Rose Hall and Bromley Estates, St. Ann, Jamaica. She was a direct descendant of Lt-Col. Thomas Rose (1639-1679), the Founder of Rose Hall and Mickleton Estates in St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, who came to Jamaica with Admiral Penn and General Venables during the English Conquest of 1655. She was also a direct descendant of Sir Thomas Bromley (1530-1587), Lord Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her first cousin, also named Elizabeth Bromley Rose, married the 5th Earl of Harrington and became the Countess of Harrington. From a Portrait Miniature on Ivory attributed to Andrew Plimmer, c. 1780. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

Photos of Bromley Pen

Location Map for Bromley Pen

Jamaica-Map-for-Blog-Bromley-Pen

The Stennett Family

The Stennett family occupied the Liberty Hill plantation starting about 1830, three years before the emancipation of the slaves and lasted until well into the twentieth century. The parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. It was very strict in its provisions:

  • On Aug. 1, 1834, all slaves 6 years old and younger were to be freed, as would be any new children born in British territories.
  • On Aug. 1, 1834, all older slaves would begin a period of apprenticeship that would last for four or six years.
  • Predials, (field-laborers), would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1840.
  • Non-predials would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1838.
  • After these dates, the slaves would be completely free.
  • During the period of apprenticeship, the slaves would work for their masters for three-fourths of each week, which amounted to 40.5 hours of work.
  • During the remaining 13.5 hours of the week, they were free to work for wages or work on the provision grounds.
  • With wages earned, a slave could buy his or her own freedom, with or without his master’s consent.
  • Special Magistrates, later called Stipendiary Magistrates, were appointed to oversee this apprenticeship process.
  • Parliament would divide out a sum of £20,000,000 among the slave owners as compensation for the loss of their property.

Thus, the Stennett family lived through one of the most turbulent times in Jamaica history as the country passed from the slavery and sugar economy. A combination of the loss of cheap labor and the collapse of the price of sugar resulted in the major changes to the welfare of the land rich, cash poor plantation owners. Many of the absentee landowners lost their plantations due to mismanagement, the need for cash to pay labor and the inability to make payments on their heavily mortgaged properties. The ones, who survived, like the Stennett family, were able to persist by selling some of their land and changing to different crops like bananas, pimentos and copra (coconuts).

The last of the Stennett family were the sisters, Miss Annie, Miss Winnie, Miss Dora and Miss Georgiana, daughters of Doctor Stennett. Doctor Stennett was a member of the Jamaican Assembly. It is said the Dr. Stennett almost fought a duel with Captain Barrett, also a member of the House and of the family that resided at the Greenwood Great House. The sisters took an active part in the village of Lime Hall with Miss Winnie being the organist at the small church. They would help those in need, bind the wounds of those needing those kinds of services and hired the local people for jobs around the property. The local people reciprocated by watching over the ladies as they became elderly and protecting them during times of turmoil. The sisters had a large library from which they liberally loaned reading material from their shelves. There they lived until their deaths and their graves are located on the property.

Drax Hall Great House

Our Visit to the Drax Hall Great House

Bonita and I were on the hunt for the Drax Hall Great House for two weekends. The owners of every store, apartment building and hotel in the neighborhood of the great house named their establishment Drax Hall…something. We found that villages and neighborhoods assume the name of the original estate or great house. There is a plethora of towns named after the great house or pen house such as Amity Hall, Brown’s Hall, Carron Hall, Dean Pen, Fellowship Hall, Giddy Hall, etc., whether or not the great house or pen still exists. The names give us a target area to look for great houses but on the other hand may send us on many a “wild goose chase.” Finally, we discovered that all that was left of the great Drax estate was the ruins of the water wheel for the sugar works.

In 1669, William Drax founded the Drax Hall Estate. Drax came to Jamaica from Barbados. Upon William Drax’s death in 1691, he passed the estate on to his son, Charles Drax who owned the estate until he died in 1721. William Beckford acquired Drax Hall Estate in 1722 from Samuel Reynolds, Charles Drax’s brother-in-law. William Beckford’s acquisition of the estate initiated a period of nearly 60 years of absentee ownership, first by Beckford, until his death in 1770, and then by his son William Beckford, owner from 1771 to 1821. The senior Beckford was said to be the richest planter in Jamaica. At his death, he owned nine sugar plantations and was part owner of seven more as well as nine cattle pens and a house in Spanish Town. (In a latter blog, I plan to report on the system of absentee landowners and their representatives left in charge of the estate known as their attorneys. Many times the owner’s foreman lived in the great house and never the owner.) In 1821, Drax Hall passed from the Beckford family to John H. Pink, who died in 1841. The Sewell family later purchased Drax Hall Estate.

Because Drax Hall was founded as a sugar estate, it’s not surprising to see that the property also features an impressive and well-preserved water wheel that drove two stone rollers. These rollers crushed the sugar cane and out flowed sugar juice. Heating this juice produced sugar, which remained after the liquid evaporated. The water for the wheel flowed from a dam on the Saint Ann Great River, which marked the western edge of the estate. The water wheel greatly boosted the productivity of the estate. Although Drax founded Drax Hall as a sugar plantation, subsequent owners switched to bananas and cattle in the 1880s and coconuts in 1905.

An 18th Century View of Drax Hall Estate. St. Ann, Jamaica in 1765. It shows the original 18th Century Great House on the hill overlooking the Sugar Works. From a Manuscript Plan of Drax Hall Estate surveyed by George Wilson in 1758, which includes a later pictorial cartouche dated 1765. Collection: The National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.

Drax Hall Great House Photo Gallery

Drax Hall Great House Location Map

Drax-Hall-Great-House-Location-Map

Cardiff Hall Great House

Finding the Cardiff Hall Great House was a lot like looking for a lost sock; it’s there, but finding it takes time and effort. Our guidebook showed it was near a hotel around Runaway Bay. We asked locals for directions and learned that a neighborhood now sits on the former estate. We continued our search, eventually finding the house when a man on bicycle pointed us in the right direction. As we drove through the gates flanked by white stone walls, we understood why the elegant home was heralded as one of the most desirable residences in Jamaica.

The Cardiff Hall Great House was owned by the Blagrove family from 1655, when the British claimed Jamaica from Spain, until 1950. It is named after Cardiff, the capital of Wales in the United Kingdom. The present great house was rebuilt in 1789 by John Forsythe, a Scottish architect. The original buildings still exist though some are in ruins. The great house and a smaller house are still occupied. An engraving was done by James Hakewill, who was commissioned by William Beckford, an owner of three plantations, to paint plantation houses and other landscapes of Jamaica. You can see how much things have changed by comparing my photos (see below) with the 1789 engraving linked above when the plantation had 227 slaves. In fact, the Blagrove family had 1,500 slaves in 1832 when also accounting for their other estates: Orange Valley, Unity Pen, and Bell Air.

The following is the description of the owner of the great house when the above engraving was published in 1832. Notice the references about slavery and the abolitionist movement that was embroiling England at the time:

Cardiff Hall, of which we give a view, is situated westward of St. Ann’s Bay, and was the usual residence, when in Jamaica, of John Blagrove, Esq., lately deceased.

This Estate, with others of equal and superior value and extent, was inherited by the late Mr. Blagrove from his Father, his ancestors having been settled in the Island from the time of its conquest by Cromwell. The late Mr. John Blagrove was born at Cardiff Hall, and sent at an early age to England. He received his education at Eton College; from thence he went to Oxford, and afterwards passed a considerable time in travelling on the Continent; from which course of education he possessed in a high degree the accomplishments of a scholar and a gentleman.

On his return to Jamaica, he occasionally took an active part in the discussions which occurred in the House of Assembly, to which he was returned a member for many years by his native parish. And during the Maroon war, Mr. Blagrove was most actively engaged, and shared in its privations and dangers.

Mr. Blagrove bestowed the greatest attention to the improvement of the breed of cattle on his several Penns: he imported into the Island some of the best bred horses England ever produced, and his liberality and public spirit were rewarded by the high prices which his stock, particularly his horses, always commanded. He was a successful competitor, on many occasions, for the cup given at the races held in the parish of St. Ann’s: in fact, his horses for the most part beat the whole field.

For many years previous to his decease, Mr. Blagrove was resident in England, and about twenty years since he purchased the Aukawyke mansion and estate, with the manor of Wyrardisbury, in Buckinghamshire: this he made his chief residence, and the property has benefited much by his care and improvements, he having always taken much delight in agricultural pursuits, which he understood well.

He was also, a few years since, the purchaser of another estate at Great Abshot, near Titchfield, in Hampshire, and he resided there at the time of his decease, which happened on the 9th April 1824, after only a few days’ illness.

He was buried at Titchfield, and in the church-yard of that parish a neat monument has been erected to his memory; he had attained his 70th year, and is sincerely lamented by his family and numerous friends.

At this period, when the whole system of colonial slavery is so grossly misrepresented, it will only be an act of justice to state, that Mr. Blagrove was always considered by his slaves as a most kind and humane master. They amounted in number to about 1,500, and are a fine people, and unquestionable specimens of the happiness and comfort to which a slave population may attain, however melancholy it may be to contemplate the risks to which the late discussions are daily exposing them. Mr. Blagrove has given a legacy by his will, which marks at once a feeling for his slaves, that few men would bestow on the free labourers of England. We give his bequest in his own words:

“And lastly, to my loving people, denominated and recognized by law as, and being in fact my slaves in Jamaica, but more estimated and considered by me and my family as tenants for life attached to the soil, I bequeath a dollar for every man, woman, and child, as a small token of my regard for their faithful and affectionate service and willing labours to myself and family, being reciprocally bound in one general tie of master and servant in the prosperity of the land, from which we draw our mutual comforts and subsistence in our several relations (a tie and interest not practised on by the hired labourer of the day in the United Kingdom), the contrary of which doctrine is held only by the visionists of the puritanical order against the common feeling of mankind.”

The annexed view is taken from the great interior road, and represents, seen through the Pimento Grove, the south or entrance front of the house. On the right is the barbecure, or plaister floor, on which the pimento is spread out to dry. The excellence of the house, the delightful variety of the grounds, and the contiguity to the sea, render Cardiff Hall one of the most desirable residences in the Island of Jamaica.

Cardiff Hall Great House,near Runaway Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica. This superb Georgian plantation house, one of the finest in Jamaica, was designed and built in 1789 by the Scottish Architect James Forsythe for the Hon. John Blagrove II (1753-1824), a rich Sugar Planter and Racehorse-Owner, who was Custos and Member of Assembly for St. Ann. The house is famous for its splendid 18th Century mahogany staircase, its elegant fluted Ionic pillars in the Entrance Hall and its fine Neoclassical Frieze on the Cornice in the Drawing Room. These are all said to have been carved during the 1780s by the famous Architect and Designer Robert Adam from mahogany specially sent to England by the Hon. John Blagrove II from his plantations in Jamaica. Cardiff Hall Great House remained the home of the Blagrove family until 1952. Later owners have included Michael Paton, a fox-hunting cousin of Sir Harold Mitchell, 1st Baronet, His Grace the Duke of Newcastle and the Oscar-Winning British film actor Peter Finch. From a Limited Edition Print after an original Drawing by Michael Lester, 1952. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

Cardiff Hall Great House Photo Gallery

Cardiff Hall Great House Location Map

Cardiff-Hall-Location-Map

A night in the mountains of Jamaica

If you are not used to nightfall in the tropics, darkness can catch you by surprise. Unlike the northern climes where twilight can drag on for hours, Jamaican sunsets “get there fast and then take it slow.” Night comes in less than 30 minutes, and hikers who forget the tropical dash-to-dusk can find themselves awash in pressing darkness.

I’m sitting on the verandah of a mountain-side Liberty Hill Great House at sunset, looking north to where sky meets sea. Both disappear. Quickly. Resorts surrounding Saint Ann parish narrow to pinpoints of distant light. The glow from the 15-story Norwegian Dawn cruise ship melts into darkness as its twin Azipod propulsion units push the 958-foot floating palace from Ocho Rios to the Port of Miami. A cool breeze flowing from land to sea wafts across my skin, a delightful respite from the sweltering heat of the coast. I hear the rustle of royal palm leaves. Around the verandah lights, delegates from the 22 species of Jamaican lizards have emerged to feast on insects, other lizards, and quick step robber frogs. The love songs of tree frogs fills the night on all sides. Further in the distance, the far distance, so as not to keep me awake, I hear the offbeat rhythms of reggae, the night-pulse of Jamaica that will beat into the early morning.

Wap. Wap. Wap. I awaken to the ceiling fan turning overhead. A rooster’s crow carries through the cool morning air, accompanied by dogs barking impatiently in the distance. A braying donkey demands, “Let me out for breakfast!” The mourning of doves and the chorus of cicadas have replaced the nighttime croaking of the tree frogs. Another day in the Jamaican mountains has dawned.

Liberty Hill Great House

Our Visit to the Liberty Hill Great House

Bonita and I turned from the north road (A-1) onto Main Avenue of Saint Ann’s Bay (2009 population: 13,671) and then up Gulley Road. We meandered through the pedestrian crowd going to and from the Saturday market while noting buildings from the colonial era (1655 – 1962). After winding our way up the green mountainside for about five kilometers, we arrived at twin cut-stone posts marking the entrance to the Liberty Hill Great House property.

Our lovely host and owner, Jennifer Kerr, met us at the door and showed us to our room. She offered us cool washcloths, scented with rose water, to remove the grime of the road trip. Jennifer, a registered nurse who owns a health care company in the United States, found Liberty Hill 8 years ago after it had stood empty for 13. It serves as both her home and the health and wellness center she runs. She shared,

“I bought the house sight unseen. I saw the flowers, the tall palm trees, the coconut trees, the ferns and the bougainvillea lining the driveway. Then I got to the top of the hill and I thought it was perfect for what I had in mind. When I first walked into the house, I cried due to its bad shape. I looked outside and saw the ocean, and when I got to the verandah, it was ‘Wow!’ Everything just came to me, the view, the ocean, the mountain and the luscious vegetation. I thought it was the perfect place to make my dream come alive. I thought this is the perfect location to relax, refresh and rejuvenate.”

Historical Background

When Jennifer bought this mountainside estate 2.5 miles north of Saint Ann’s Bay, she became the 8th owner of the property with a long history. Archeological digs showed that the Western Taíno people lived on the site from 600 – 650 AD. The Taíno were an Arawak people indigenous to the Caribbean. They likely lived on the property until 1519 when Spanish-borne smallpox led to their extinction as a culture.

Over 200 years passed before the Tracey family built a great house in 1740 to oversee their pimento plantation and escape the coastal heat. The kind of pimento grown in Jamaica, also known as allspice, is indigenous to the Caribbean and is an essential ingredient in Jamaica’s jerk seasoning. The Liberty Hill Great House is built on a Taíno midden, a refuse heap for domestic waste including food scraps, animal remains, and broken pottery.

House Layout

The original owners situated the house at 1,200 feet above sea level. 18th Century visitors entered the front of the one-story, wood-shingled house where 35 stairs climb to an expansive verandah that faces the ocean. Today, visitors park in the rear and climb only 3 steps. Once inside, a sitting room was to the left (now the dining room), and the living room with a brick fireplace was to the right. To the right of the living room are two bedrooms. Behind the sitting room is a large dining room (now the living room) with a sealed door that at one time lead to the separate kitchen (In colonial times, the kitchen was a separate outhouse due to fire danger and to prevent the cooking heat from coming into the house…a certain advantage in a hot climate like Jamaica).

To the left of the dining room is a hallway, now the entry lobby of the house. It leads to a stairway ascending to the attic. An old chandelier hangs from the hallway ceiling. To the left is the master bedroom boasting glorious views of Saint Ann’s Bay. The stairway led to what is now a bedroom. It used to be a place for the house master to entertain guests in illegal activities such as gambling and drinking bootleg alcohol. One of the servants was stationed on the landing to act as a seamstress and a lookout for the law. In the event of a police raid, occupants could escape from two trapdoors leading to the roof.

Outside we toured the gardens where Jennifer pointed out the many fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the house’s 25 acres. She showed us the ruins of the old kitchen. The kitchen had a basement where the slaves were locked up each night. The quarters for the house servants are still in use, and there is a barbecue behind the house. A Jamaican barbecue is a large flat area in which pimentos or coffee beans are sun dried.

Meals at the Liberty Hill Great House

We enjoyed two Jamaican meals. The first was dinner, served as the sun sank behind the west mountains. Our first course was a cabbage & carrot slaw and pumpkin soup. If you have never tasted Jamaican pumpkin soup, then your life has been empty up to this time. Next came the entree of a delicious chicken served in a delightful jerk sauce. The sides featured yams, bakesh and cassava. For desert, they served a cassava pudding. In the morning, the staff served papaya, watermelon, custard apples, rundown, dumplings, yams, boiled bananas, orange/papaya juice, coffee, and tea.

Liberty Hill Great House Contact Information

Jennifer would love to have you visit the Liberty Hill Great House. If you come in to Ocho Rios (known as Ochi to the locals) by cruise ship, she would be glad to pick you up at the dock, take you up to the great house, give you a historical tour of the house and gardens and serve you an authentic Jamaican lunch. Her contact information is:

Jamaica phone: 876-972-5441; Jamaica cell phone: 876-860-0163 and 876-392-0918; USA phone: 248-796-7118;
email: jkerr@libertyhillgreathouse.com;
Please also visit their website and Facebook page.

Liberty Hill Great House Photo Gallery


Liberty Hill Great House Location Map

Liberty-Great-House