Historically Accurate Reconstruction of Original 1780 Great House Is A Spectacular Showpiece For the Birthplace of Democracy.
At the end of a quiet, mango and mahogany tree-shaded road in Savannah, Grand Cayman, high atop a limestone bluff, lies one of the Caribbean's most spectacular historic restorations, the Pedro St. James Historic Site. After a seven year transformation, the Cayman Islands government has created the country's most ambitious heritage attraction to date and its first national landmark.
The final phase of the most extensive restoration project in Cayman's history was completed in December 1998 and unveiled during a gala Grand Opening celebration. Sprawling over 7.65 acres with a breathtaking view of the azure Caribbean, Pedro St. James is one of the country's genuine treasures awaiting discovery by all visitors.
Behind a traditional coral stone wall rises an authentic, three-storey early 19th century great house and outbuildings, with traditional "grounds" planted with pineapple, banana and other provisions. The adjacent acres are covered with luxuriant tropical plants, palm-lined walkways and a splendid manicured Great Lawn sprawling to a jaw-dropping view of the Caribbean. At the main entrance is the Visitors Centre featuring a state of the art multimedia theatre where visitors experience 200 years of Cayman history in 20 minutes.
Today, it is a site whose grandeur is befitting of its importance as the Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands.
Formerly known as Pedro Castle, this is the oldest known existing stone structure in the Cayman Islands. The original building is believed to have been built of quarried native rock around 1780 as a great house by William Eden, a mariner, plantation owner and early settler.
The project began with two years of archaeological research and simultaneous searches in archives in Jamaica, Scotland, England and Spain. Together, these efforts unearthed historic facts far more interesting than romantic fiction.
In 1780, William Eden, a mariner and early English settler, established a cotton and mahogany plantation on Savannah's Pedro bluff with its spectacular view of the Caribbean and convenient anchorage for ships right offshore. His great house, called St. James, was built with slave labour using native quarried stone. It was a remarkable building for that period, when the population of Grand Cayman was only 400--of which 200 were slaves. It was the only house on Grand Cayman that survived the devastating hurricane of 1785. The original ruins beneath the "castle" are the oldest structure in the Cayman Islands. By 1823 the house and grounds were being used as a courthouse, jail and public pound.
Birthplace of Democracy
But its greatest historic significance was not even publicly known until this decade. Pedro St. James was the site of a historic meeting of residents which took place on 5 December, 1831 during which it was resolved that representatives should be appointed for the five different districts for the purpose of forming local laws for better Government. The elections took place on 10 December in the five districts on Grand Cayman and on 31 December they met as the first Legislative Assembly for the first time in George Town.
"Pedro St. James Historic Site, considered the birthplace of democracy in the Cayman Islands, will serve as our premier national landmark. This is our equivalent to Independence Hall in the United States and will serve as a model for future heritage tourism attractions here," said Minister Jefferson.
In addition, another historic event took place here in May 1835, when the proclamation declaring the emancipation of all slaves throughout the colonies was read at Pedro St. James and at a number of other prominent places in the Cayman Islands.
Historically Accurate Restoration
The new Pedro St. James great house was completed in January 1998, a historically accurate restoration of the original plantation great house, representative of the period between 1820 and 1840. The three-level design with wide verandas was based on archival and architectural research about that era of Caribbean history, as well as the materials used in the original structure itself. This provided enough evidence for an accurate idea of what Eden's original manor looked like.
Every detail reflects authentic building techniques of early 19th century Caribbean great houses - from rough hewn timber beams and wooden pegs to replacing the false upper level crenulations with a gabled framework. Other period features include mahogany floors and staircases, wide beam wooden ceilings; stone walls, outside wooden louvered shutters and mahogany doors.
The first floor houses the jail, store rooms, kitchen and pantry. The second level is a dining room, courtroom and veranda and the upper level contains the living quarters. Furnishings are a combination of original 19th century mahogany antiques and reproductions obtained from St. Kitts and other Caribbean countries. Rooms are accurate in detail down to walls painted with lime wash the colour of oxblood; candle sconces and brass door fastenings.
A bake oven and outdoor kitchen on the building's northwest side are recreations of the original great house estate. More recent additions include an early 20th century Caymanian-style cottage and Steadman Bodden house, a restored traditional 100-year-old Caymanian wattle and daub home. Both were relocated to the site to enhance its educational heritage value.
One of the most beautiful Caribbean attractions, Pedro St. James is already a popular venue for weddings and social events. The grounds have been landscaped as a magnificent natural tropical park with native trees and plants, as well as traditional medicinal and vegetable gardens representative of a small early 19th century West Indian plantation.
The Visitor's Centre includes five-buildings in 19th century architectural style surrounding a landscaped courtyard. The main attraction is the 49-seat state of the art multimedia theatre featuring a 20-minute video presentation on Pedro St. James and highlights of 200 years of Cayman history. Other facilities include a resource centre, gift shop, and café. Interpretative displays and signs throughout the great house and grounds allow self-guided tours but guides are also available.
Visitor Information: Pedro St. James Historic Site is located in Savannah, Grand Cayman and is open 8:30-5:00 daily. The multi-media show starts on the hour from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Admission is US$8.00. Children under 6 are free and children 6 to 12 years old pay US$4.00.
For information, contact: ph: (345) 947-3329. Also visit us on the web at www.pedrostjames.ky.