Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Falling for Falmouth, Jamaica

Part of my walkaround in Falmouth. In front of this Georgian house, currently being restored, are Dr. Ivor Connolly, Ned Brown, and George Palmer.
Falling for Falmouth, Jamaica
by Ned Brown

If you are a regular reader of NYSD, you undoubtedly ascertained an editorial penchant for older architecture. As a resident of Charleston, SC, we have an abundance of old houses and buildings, but what I found in Jamaica was an unexpected surprise.

If you enjoy late 18th and 19th century architecture that is meticulously restored and dotingly preserved, Charleston is the place to come. There is no larger concentration of architecture in this genre than what you will find in Charleston. What makes the city unique is its fusion of different architectural styles that came together over two 200 years to create its own distinctive style. For instance, the single house design (two floors, center door, two rooms each floor) was created in the late 1600s in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The concept was transported to Charleston in the early 1700s, whereupon they added first and second floor porches (or piazzas as we refer to them), the innovation coming from the West Indies, to create a design that is uniquely Charlestonian.
75 King Street, William Elliott House, circa 1730s. William Elliott, whose distinguished family began here as a "brotherhood of builders," appears to have had this three-and-a-half-story house constructed some time before 1740. The less regular design and floor plan of the structure are common attributes of earlier 18th-centrury construction. One of the oldest surviving Charleston single houses, the building retains much of its early Georgian woodwork, beautiful paneling and floors, large fireplace openings, and stunning early staircase.
If you are wondering how this happened, first remember that many of Charleston's founders were English citizens who came from Barbados. While these individuals were educated with the formality of English design, they also adopted the informality and practicality of Caribbean living. For over a century, this fusion of design because of the triangular trade route (circa 1680-1850) where ships sailed from England to West Africa to pick-up slaves (and sell arms), then sailed to the West Indies to sell slaves and buy molasses for sugar and rum, continued north to Charleston for cotton, indigo and rice, the further north to New York, Boston and Marblehead, with the return to England.

So I had the opportunity to go to Jamaica recently with my brother, Josh Brown, who is in the corporate meeting business, as a guest of the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa ( The Hilton sits along the coastline east of Montego Bay along with the Half Moon Resort and the Ritz-Carlton. I found the Hilton to be a clean angular design, well-maintained, service very friendly and attentive, food more than adequate, and the all-inclusive feature made consuming copious numbers of rum drinks much too easy.
The Hilton Rose Hall Resort.
Before I came to Jamaica, I knew a bit about the history of Falmouth and its unique collection of Georgian architecture. One of the port city's founders was Edward Barrett, father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Barrett lived between England (where Elizabeth was born) and Jamaica, where he made a fortune in sugar production and rum distilling.

Engraving of Elizabeth Barrett Browning from an 1859 photograph.
Falmouth sits 18 miles to the east of Montego Bay. During the heydays of the triangular trade route, ships would arrive to the island from Barbados and make stops in Kingston, Falmouth and Montego Bay. What makes Falmouth unique is its streets designed on the grid system, with a market and plaza in the center of town, and it was the first city in the western hemisphere with running water.

In the early eighteenth century, and with Falmouth's large collection of Georgian architecture, it was viewed as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the western hemisphere and the "Paris of the Indies."

The wealth concentrated during this era along the north coast of Jamaica was staggering. Huge sugar cane plantations and the "great houses" the proprietors lived in were built and cultivated with the hands of slaves.

Today, many of these plantation great houses remain (e.g. Rose Hall, Greenwood and Bellefield) and are open to the public. However, it all came to an end in 1834 with the emancipation and abolition of slavery.
A view of downtown Falmouth.
Water Square in Falmouth.
While wealthy landowners like Edward Barrett tried to maintain their plantations with diminished help, the shortage of cheap labor quickly depleted the owners' financial resources. Barrett alone went from great wealth to very modest means in a very short period of time.

Like many of the 115 plantation owners between Montego Bay and Falmouth, they simply abandoned their properties and returned to England. Lands and buildings sat abandoned for nearly a century. Port trade shifted to Kingston and Montego Bay. Falmouth rapidly became the town that time forgot.
Rose Hall.
I reached out to Dr. Ivor Connolly, President of the Georgian Society of Jamaica and head of Falmouth Heritage Renewal, and George Palmer, first vice-president of the society. The Georgian Society is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Jamaica's historical buildings, and Falmouth heritage restores architecture in Falmouth. We agreed to meet in Falmouth for a tour of the city. I was following a regal path, as Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited in 2011, and Prince Harry was there in 2012.
Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles on a 2008 visit to Falmouth.
What you will see below are images of our walkabout town, and the buildings Falmouth Heritage Renewal and the Georgian Society have preserved.
George Palmer, Dr. Ivor Connolly, and NB in front of St. Peter's, one of the largest and oldest Anglican churches in the West Indies.
St. Peter's placard.
Inside St. Peter's Anglican Chuch.
The rear porch of Part of a Georgian house currently being restored.
I particulalrly liked the detail of the louvered window for ventilation.
Meeting with Dr. Ivor Connolly in his outdoor office at Falmouth Heritage Renewal.
View from Dr. Connolly's porch office.
Courthouse restored by Falmouth Heritage Renewal.
Turned ironwork on Falmouth Courthouse steps.
Holding cage in the Courthouse.
Prosecutor setting-up for court.
Original Courthouse burned and was rebuilt in 1929.
View from Falmouth Courthouse steps.
Another view from the Falmouth Courthouse steps.
The Baptist Manse, an early Georgian structure restored by Falmouth Heritage Renewal.
A small Georgian/Jamaican house pre-restoration.
The ornate fretwork on the house.
At the end of our tour, we discussed a preservation resource they were unaware of: the American College of Building Arts in Charleston ( The ACBA was created as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Many of the old houses in Charleston suffered severe damage, and the artisans to restore them, often had to be imported from Europe. The ACBA is a four year college program that trains artisans in stone cutting, forged iron working, ornate plaster working, preservation masonry, timber framing and carpentry.

The ACBA currently has just under fifty students and the goal is to have one hundred. And every student, after completing the program, finds a full time job. Dr. Connolly, George Palmer and I discussed the possibility of Jamaicans attending the program, and ACBA students coming to Falmouth this coming summer to do field work/study internships.
The American College of the Building Arts in the Old Jail Building, Charleston, SC.
Master plasterer student at the ACBA.
From Falmouth, brother Josh and I headed to the Montego Bay Airport. As a humorous aside to the Falmouth visit, I asked our driver, Nick Brown, how Falmouth produced two world-class sprinters in Ben Johnson and Usain Bolt. His surprising answer was, "They ate lots of yams when they were young." Along the way, we had to make one last stop at Scotchies, which cooks the absolute best jerk chicken on pimento wood. Arriving at the newly remodeled airport, we were escorted to the MoBay Club, which speeds you through customs and security to a private club for free food and drink. Definitely use this service when you are exiting Jamaica.
My final lunch at Scotches: Jamaican Jerk Chicken and an Appleton rum.
Brother Josh playing box bass in a Calypso band.
On the flight north, I sat with Washington, DC- based art collector (and displaced Parisienne), Lorie Peters Lauthier, who was on the island visiting Michele Rollins, and attending a ball for one of Michele's charity causes. Michele is one of those larger-than-life successful individuals who has dedicated much of the last thirty years developing and improving Rose Hall on Jamaica.

Michele Rollins.
New York City native, Michele was a Miss USA runner-up, attended Georgetown University Law, became an SEC lawyer, then General Counsel for Sun Oil (and the Pew family), and married "Big John" Rollins, a very successful entrepreneur thirty years her senior, who left her a fortune in the hundreds of millions.

Michele has carefully developed Rose Hall plantation, built the Ritz-Carlton and the award-winning White Witch golf course. Michele is affectionately known as the "Queen of Rose Hall" for her love and dedication to the area and local charitable causes.

As we lifted-off, I look down upon Half Moon Bay, plotting my return to Jamaica.