Port Antonio: The Titchfield Hotel & Bananas!

Posted by on Apr 24, 2010 in Blog, Jamaican History & Heritage, Port Antonio Jamaica, Portland Jamaica | 2 comments

Port Antonio: The Titchfield Hotel & Bananas!
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Today we’re learning a little bit of history about Port Antonio, its Titchfield Hotel, and the banana industry. The Spanish called it “Puerto Anton”. The English tried to rename it “Titchfield”, probably because that was the name of the estate of Lord Portland (a former Governor after whom the parish is named), but the original name stuck. To boost the town’s population, the English offered land grants to Europeans and then fortified the harbor and Port Antonio’s residents by erecting Fort George in 1729 to protect them from slave uprisings on the surrounding plantations.

Lorenzo Dow Baker built the Titchfield Hotel, Jamaica's first, in 1905 (read the article below). The place was HUGE - it had 400 rooms and it was said that no hotel on this side of the Atlantic was as elegant. The hotel’s guest list included Rudyard Kipling, William Randolph Hearst, J.P. Morgan Jr., Clara Bow, Bette ... Davis and Ginger Rogers. Some arrived on banana boats and others on their own yachts. When the banana industry declined in the 1930s, so did the Titchfield’s business.

Errol Flynn fell in love with Port Antonio in the ‘50s and bought the Titchfield, renamed it Jamaica Reef, and had plans to restore and develop it for tourism prior to his premature death. And, sadly, most of the Titchfield (and other buildings on the peninsula) was destroyed by fire in the 1960s. Today only the ruins of this great landmark still stand.

Port Antonio’s highly respected Titchfield High School was built around the ruins of the hotel and old Fort George. The administrative buildings occupy the Fort’s barracks. You can see the site of the Titchfield (the shell of the hotel’s staff building and 2 swimming pools remain) and Fort George (old stone powder house and two remaining cannons sitting atop the old walls). You can also visit the 18th Century Christ Church which is still in use.

Read More in Part II!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Titchfield Hotel, Part I

by john on Sat 09 Jan 2010 05:27 AM PST

The story of the Titchfield Hotel covers alot of territory, and instead of butchering it to save space, I have decided to divide it into 2 or maybe 3 parts.

For clarity's sake, I have labeled the photos; Titchfield I, Titchfield II, and Titchfield III. As the story develops, you will understand the reason for this.

As in any really fascinating tale, there is a visionary man or woman behind it, and this is no exception. The visionary in this tale is one Lorenzo Dow Baker. Born in Wellfleet, MA in 1840 to a family of fisherman, he was apprenticed to a Captain by age 10, and 10 yrs. later was Captain and owner of his own schooner, "Vineyard". At age 30, with his new 70 ton, 3 masted schooner, "Telegraph", he was transporting a load of mining equipment to Venezuela when he was caught in "heavy squalls" and limped into the East bay of Port Antonio, Jamaica for much needed repairs. The story was that Baker, while roaming about the town, saw an old man with a tiny donkey so loaded down with strange looking "pods" that the donkey was barely visible. Baker asked the man what those "pods" were and the old man replied "nahnahs". They were about "twice as long as a man's thumb" and after sampling a couple, a grand idea lit up in Baker's head. He was convinced they would sell in the U.S.

Baker bought a large load of banana's for next to nothing and set off for Boston, but alas, by the time he arrived, the fruit had over ripened and gone bad. Undeterred, Baker returned the next year (1871) and loaded up again with as many green banana's as he could for the price of 25 cents per bunch and sold the cargo in New York for the huge markup of $2.50 per banana! The die was cast then and there. Baker quit his cargo hauling business and concentrated on banana's. Being ever the shrewd businessman, he would load the ship returning to Jamaica with flour, cured meats, pork, salt cod, herring, shoes, boots, furniture, and textiles (typical "buy where it is plentiful and sell where it is scarce"). At this point, Baker was making 5 trips per year, and the money was literally coming in by the truck-loads! Baker had more money than he knew what to do with, but far from being satisfied, and being bitten by the "money bug" he sought out ways to make ever more riches. One of these was was by founding The United Fruit Company and going into partnership with plantation and railroad magnate, Minor C. Keith (whom he later bought out). Another was buying vast tracts of prime Jamaican land from Port Antonio to Morant Bay Point for setting up his own banana plantations, and last, but far from least, hitting upon the idea that tourists would pay good money to visit Jamaica if there were only "proper accommodations".

You see, in those days, only the wealthy could afford to travel from continent to continent (something we take for granted today) and first-class treatment was obligatory. So in 1895, Baker went about building a rather small hotel in the "tropical style" of the day. He picked the top of a small peninsula jutting out from the north end of Port Antonio called "Titchfield", and at the highest point on the peninsula he started building a main house that contained the dining room, kitchen, sitting room, and rooms for the staff on the second floor. A number of cottages (over a dozen) were built for the guests and a large detached bath house was built to the north of the cottages. Business caught on and before long, Baker had more guests than places to put them!

From The Errol Flynn Blog.
 

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2 Comments

  1. Hi John. Loved your Port Antonio history. It’s well-written too. Your Part III was extremely entertaining!

    Was wondering if you witnessed any ‘sign’ of any of the numerous pathways that were made there by Errol. I’m sure a half century later they have been overgrown, however I’m curious as to whether there are any remaining ‘clues’.
    Did you ever learn what part of the hotel Errol and Beverly stayed in when they weren’t at the house on Navy Island?

    Regards,
    Dennis Mullen
    Havana Writers’ Retreat

  2. I forwarded your comment to the Errol Flynn Blog. Thanks for reading!

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