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.”
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.
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: