Culture & History in Portland Jamaica

Culture & History in Portland Jamaica
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Portland Parish:
Cultural & Historic

 

Portland parish has many very interesting historic and cultural buildings and sites. They include:
  • Charles Town Maroon Museum and Village. Located in the Buff Bay River valley, the new little museum, the first of its kind in Jamaica, displays a rich heritage of the Maroon way of life. The Maroons of Charles Town received from the 1739 treaty approximately 1,000 acres of land that is communally owned. A few families hold property rights to individual plots. The community has a population of about 1,200 people, most with Maroon ties, and like many rural Jamaican communities, they struggle with high unemployment and impoverishment.
  • DeMontevin Lodge. Currently operated as a guest house, this Victorian-style building located on Titchfield Street was built shortly after 1900 for the then Custos of Portland, David Gideon, one of the founders of United Fruit Company. It is thought that Gideon brought the elaborate ironwork, barley columns and verandah rails, which adorn the exterior of the house, from America. In recent years, DeMontevin Lodge has been extensively renovated and refurbished and has been declared a National Heritage site.
  • Folly Great House was built by Alfred Mitchell, an American millionaire and retired mining engineer who married into the Tiffany family. In 1901, he bought a 90-acre estate and began constructing a grand two-story mansion with 60 rooms, Doric columns, inner-courtyards and impressive stairways. The Mitchells lived an opulent lifestyle with several servants, and kept a variety of exotic pets like peacocks and monkeys. They owned the first automobile in Port Antonio. The local legend is that Mitchell was so cheap that he mixed the cement with seawater - what a "folly" - and the mansion began to crumble! In reality, Mr. Mitchell enjoyed the house until his death in 1911, his widow remained there for two years, ultimately selling the property. When the owners abandoned the property around 1920, the Jamaican government took it over and it sadly fell into ruin. (Read more and see photos  here.) This old, crumbling pseudo-Grecian style mansion was an unusual contrast with the tropical Jamaican countryside. Some columns remain. Folly still belongs to the Jamaican Government and is sadly neglected. All that really remains is the beautiful marble floor but the harbor view is great.
  • Folly Point Lighthouse was built in 1888 of fireproof masonry. It sits on the Folly Estate at the entrance to Port Antonio’s Errol Flynn Marina. Its light is visible for 23 nautical miles.
  • Fort George and Barracks: The British built the Fort in 1729 to protect the coastline from an invasion by the Spanish and to deal with the threatening Maroons in the area. The walls are 10 feet thick and the Fort was designed for 22 guns and cannons. The military barracks, which now house Titchfield High School, were completed in 1743. It's now mostly in ruins but its guns are still in place. It is located on the grounds of the Titchfield High School at the end of the peninsula.
  • Moore Town: After Nanny’s death, the Windwards were led by Quao. In 1739, four months after Cudjoe made peace with the British, Quao also signed a treaty, thus obtaining freedom and 500 acres of land. Today many of their descendants are small farmers in the Rio Grande Valley where the story of their gallant fight lives on in legend and place names. The community still exists and is governed by a Colonel assisted by a Council of 24 members. At one end of the village is Bump Grave. It is the grave of the Right Excellent Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica's only National Heroine. The plaque on the grave reads: "Nanny of the Maroons/ National Hero of Jamaica/Beneath this place known as Bump Grave lies the body of Nanny, indomitable and skilled Chieftainess of the Windward Maroons who founded this town." Both the Jamaican and Maroon flags fly there. By the way, Nanny is pictured on the Jamaican $500 bill.
  • Nanny Town: This Maroon settlement referred to as "the great negro town" was situated 2,000 feet above sea level on the southern slopes of the Blue Mountains. It is the oldest and most famous Maroon settlement in the valley. Its inhabitants were the Windward Maroons, the runaway slaves of Portland. The leaders were Nanny, a former African slave, and her brother, Captain Quao, who was an excellent guerilla fighter. They successfully terrorized the plantation owners in this end of the island. In 1739, Nanny’s brother, Cudjoe, signed a Peace Treaty with the English. The treaty forbade them from harboring runaway slaves. Nanny refused to sign but ultimately agreed to a truce. After the truce, Nanny’s Maroons split from the others, following her to New Nanny Town, now called Moore Town. Nanny Town was never resettled.
  • Navy Island. The 64-acre island sits opposite Port Antonio’s West Harbour. Navy Island is named for the British Naval base which was set up there in the 18th Century to protect Port Antonio. Once owned by Errol Flynn, he reportedly won the island in a poker game. He held raucous parties there, entertaining his jet-setting friends throughout the 1950s. Until fairly recently, the Island was maintained as a tourist resort with three beaches, water sports and African style cottages. It has one of the best snorkeling reefs in the area. The Island is now closed to the public. Electricity has long been turned off to the island, but Port Antonio residents often report ghostly happenings there, such as lights coming from the cabins and loud party noises! It is now owned by the Port Authority and occasionally development plans surface for making it a casino resort or some other type of tourist attraction.
  • Orange Bay Railway Station was built in 1896 and is a lovely example of Jamaican Georgian architecture. It currently houses the Portland Art Gallery which is not always open. However, when they are, you are welcome to stop in and see the building.
  • Port Antonio Court House. This stone and brick building was erected in 1895 and part of it was immediately taken over for use by the Parish Council. Sadly, the interior of the courthouse was gutted by fire but it was renovated, reopened in 2009, and houses a branch of NCB Bank. The parish has built a beautiful new 1800s Georgian style court house in the Boundbrook area which is energy efficient, handicap accessible and has all the modern conveniences.
  • Portland Parish Church (Christ Church) in Port Antonio was built on land donated in 1836 for the purpose of building a church. The 3-story building has a 4-story tower and clock. This imposing red brick Anglican Church has been serving the parish of Portland for over 161 years. It was designed by Annesley Voysey, who adorned it with a large stained-glass window and wooden pews. At the turn of the 20th century, the Boston Fruit Company, growing rich on the bananas being shipped out of Port Antonio, donated the church's eagle lectern. The baptismal font is a study in decorative artwork. The present congregation is 650, although the church can hold 1500.
  • St. George’s Anglican Church is the oldest building in the town of Buff Bay. Built in 1814, the stone used to construct it came from England as ballast in ships. Called St. George’s, the church is a relic from the time when Buff Bay was the capital of Saint George’s parish which was divided up in 1867 between Saint Mary and Portland.
  • Seaman’s Valley Great House. There are ruins of the great house and the first European cemetery in this area of the parish. The Seaman’s Valley road leads to Moore Town (above).
  • Titchfield Peninsula. The first place to be settled by the English, the peninsula divides the twin harbors of Port Antonio. There are some great examples of various periods of architecture on the peninsula.
  • Trident Castle. Visitors always wonder about this remarkable and prominent building which is located about 10 minutes east of Port Antonio on Pegg Point, on Turtle Crawle Bay. During Spanish occupation, the bay was named Puerto Escondido (Hidden Harbor) and was secluded enough to protect pirate ships. The Castle was designed and built as a private residence by Earl Levy, an architect and builder, and had been commissioned by his then business partner, Baroness Fahmi of Germany. Later legal wrangling caused Mr. Levy to take over ownership. It’s one of the largest private homes, and the only castle, in the Caribbean. Construction began in 1979, and lasted approximately 10 years. It is currently a private home but can be rented out for special occasions. You can take a tour of it on Mr. Levy’s website!
culture-&-history-in-portland-jamaica
For our listing of hidden gems, beaches, waterfalls, recreational stuff, and other fun things to do in this parish, click here.

 

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