If you're up for a little adventure, you can fill your days checking out the great houses of Jamaica, legendary and otherwise. The Great House (Plantation House) was the seat of authority on an estate. It was the home of planters, or attorneys who acted for the absentee owner. The size and profitability of the property and the wealth of the owner determined the size of the house. These houses were usually 2-story buildings with a base of brick, cut stone and mortar. The top floor was usually made of wood.
You'll find the great houses of Jamaica in every Parish and in all stages of repair - from crumbling ruins to completely restored to their former glory. The beauty you see pictured on the left is the Salt Spring Great House in the parish of Hanover, which was owned by Dugald Campbell in 1811. It's very near Green Island, so ask for directions if you're in the area.
That's A Great House!
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Great Houses often betray the opulence, elegance and traditions of our colonial past. Juxtaposed with the modern architecture of our island, their presence reminds us of the fecundity of the Jamaican imagination... endless stories of revolts and rebellions, loss and love. They tell, too, of the cornucopia of cultures that fuse to create our "Out of Many, One People" motto. So, in honour of our heritage and the "Emancipendence" period, celebrate these imposing structures with scenes.
Bloomfield Great House, Manchester
The white birds start in the late evening. Each formation, silent, spectacular.
Left to right across the backdrop of the town mushroomed on the hills. It is surely a fly-by tribute to the grand old lady. For she is pretty, she is historically important, 200 years old and she is the showpiece of Central Jamaica.
After two years of renovation, Bloomfield Great House opened to the public in 2007 as a restaurant and bar. This gem of Georgian architecture, located on a five-acre hilltop property, offers the finest panoramic view of Mandeville and its surrounding hills.
Originally a coffee estate, Bloomfield precedes the formation of the parish of Manchester, which was so named in 1838. Bloomfield was one of four properties that gave land for the formation of the town. It is also believed to be the site of the first citrus packing house in the country, and at one time served as a cattle-rearing and dairy farm.
In 1925, the property was purchased by Guy Winchester Harris, who effected a number of changes to the building, which housed the hotel.
Bloomfield was sold in 1962, the year Jamaica gained independence from the British, to Richard Harris, a wealthy farmer. The property was again sold four years after. Ten years after Independence Guy Barrington Grant bought the property on which the Great House sits.
In more recent years the grand lady housed the popular Bill Lorie's Steak House.
Now positioned as a restaurant and bar, the Bloomfield Great House offers an array of delights, beginning at noon each day, Monday to Saturday. The Great House is closed on Sundays. The verandah, which seats 30, is certainly the choice place to dine. There are, too, a private dining room (seats 12), the main dining room seats 36, and the function room, which seats 80 guests. The restaurant is owned and operated by Pamela Grant, former CBS news producer, and her Australian husband Ralph Pearce, a demographer and PADI scuba instructor.
Rose Hall Great House, St James
The fabled Rose Hall Great House was once the home of the tyrannical Annie Palmer.
Feared by slaves for her merciless rule and penchant for black magic, Annie was infamously referred to as 'The White Witch of Rose Hall'.
The plantation's most impressive building by far is the Great House, built in 1770 by George Ash for John Palmer, Custos of St Thomas, and his wife Rosa.
After the couple passed away in 1790, the property went through many hands before finally becoming the residence of John Palmer's grandnephew John Rose Palmer. In 1820, John Rose Palmer married Annie, a bewitchingly beautiful and feisty English girl. Her knowledge of the dark arts eventually led her to kill her husband, which meant that the plantation was now hers for the taking.
Annie's thirst for blood continued as she did away with two more husbands and several lovers. Her cruelty, however, came to an end in 1831, when she was found dead in her bedroom at the Great House. Legend has it that she was killed by her slave lover, and to this day there is talk that lucky visitors to the mansion can catch a glimpse of her ghost wandering the halls.
The Great House, which is of Georgian architecture, is built of cut-stone on the first two levels and stucco on the third and uppermost level. The main entrance to the second level of the building consists of a cut-stone symmetrical grand staircase, which leads to a verandah on the seaward side of the building.
The building also features sash windows, keystone, quoins and a hip roof.
The old sugar estate, on which the Great House sits, is also home to several modern buildings, namely the Half Moon, Iberostar, Rose Hall and Ritz Carlton resorts, as well as world-famous golf courses like White Witch, Cinnamon Hill and Half Moon.
Devon House, Kingston
Jamaica's most recently refurbished national treasure, Devon House, stands as a proud beacon of black accomplishment.
George Stiebel, thought of as the island's first black millionaire, is said to have purchased the rectory and lands from the parish council in 1879 and built Devon House on its foundation in 1881, after amassing wealth from the mines in Venezuela.
Stiebel played an active role in the civic affair, ultimately becoming custos of Kingston and St Andrew in 1890. His wife Magdalene died in October 1892. Stiebel died soon after, in 1896, after a battle with gouts and brights disease.
His daughter Theresa married Richard Jackson in 1879 and lived at Devon House. Surviving members of the Jackson family sold the property in 1922 to the Melhados, who after five years sold it to the Lindos. That family occupied Devon House until 1965, when the property was sold to the Government of Jamaica.
Subsequently, the house was saved from last-minute demolition by then Minister of Development-cum-former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
The property once housed the National Gallery of Art (1968) and underwent its first round of refurbishing in 1969. Other refurbishing efforts happened in 1982 -- when Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II visited the island -- 1987 and 2008.
The grand dame of Kingston architecture contributes significantly to the beauty of the city, and has much relevance to the 21st century Jamaican.
In fact, buildings adjacent to the Great House are used today. The horse, carriage stable and blacksmith shop are The Grog Shoppe; the staff quarters have since been converted to the Courtyard shops; the kitchen is now the Brick Oven pastry shop and a section of Norma's On The Terrace once belonged to the pool and pantry.
The mansion was declared a national monument by the National Heritage Trust in September 1990.
The most recent refurbishing project, commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism through the Devon House Development Company Ltd, of which Carla Seaga, wife of former PM Edward Seaga, is chair was completed last month. The renovation process also involved the Tourism Enhancement Fund, which is chaired by Ian Neita.