Out with the old? Historical restoration needed.

Jamaicans talk with much pride about their culture and history, but how much do we care or appear to care? I have barely scratched the surface in seeing the many historical artefacts that exist in Jamaica. However, I come across them frequently. Just the other week, I drove out to Robin’s Bay, St. Mary, and on my way to the beach was struck by the stirring site of what looked like an old sugar mill on top of a hill.
imageI know we are conflicted about celebrating some of our slavery and colonial history, so I was not surprised that the sign posting for this spot was muted, but at least it was there. Every so often I drive past one of the disused railway stations that dot Jamaica. One of my greatest memories was of taking the train from Montego Bay to Kingston–a ride that gave me in one day the biggest slice of Jamaican life that I had ever been served. We know that the railway company no longer operates and that the government is trying–struggling–to find a buyer for it, in whole or in part. I drive often to Mandeville and am lucky to be able to see the wonderful structure of St. Mark’s Church. I see, on my way, to that town, signs for Roxborough, the former home of Norman Manley, which has now been restored as a museum. Again, I remember visiting it years ago, and I promised myself to take a trip to see the restoration. But, many sites just stand there in need of much love and care and preservation.
One of the real costs of a mismanaged economy is that structures like these get ignored, and neither public nor public resources are spared to keep up or restore them. Yet, they are important parts of our society’s history and should be protected.

During the weekend, someone shared many pictures of dilapidated structures in Jamaica. One striking image was of the now unused station at Mile Gully. I found it painful to see, overgrown and abandoned. I found it hard to accept that I knew nothing about its history. I grieved at the thought that my daughter may never see it from the seat of a train. I found it hard to take that we would just let it stand and rot away. Call me romantic!

Jamaica has a National Heritage Trust, which appears to want to help preserve physical reminders of our past. It’s great to visit their website and check off the places I know. But, by contrast, when I was near Montego Bay a few weeks ago, and walking around Cinnamon Hill golf course, I was shocked to hear that it was dotted by slave tombs, some placed conveniently as places to rest. One young player was visibly shocked to learn that she was sitting above what might have been the final resting place of her ancestors. But, where was a plaque or some notice? I presume the owners know the location of the tombs and it was surprising to not see any hint of what was under our feet. I refuse to believe that no one wants to know. Why not make it a feature for tourists? Last week, I was in Mandeville again, and made a point of visiting The Manchester Club, whose golf course, built in 1865, is believed to be the oldest surviving club in the western hemisphere. I played there, and after years of my father walking it daily and my walking it many times, it had more significance. But, it needs love and care and shouldn’t just be a convenient short cut taken by people to get from Brumalia to the centre of Mandeville!

I see the pleasure people get from being able to visit Devon House, and to picnic there or eat patties and ice cream, or buy some crafts, is often part of some memorable moment. Many people know of its origin, but even if they don’t they can enjoy its preserved state. I know many foreign visitors who take a chance to visit KIngston and are thrilled to find Devon House and then nearby the sites highlighted on the Heritage Trail. We should be rightly proud of our past.

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Mile Gully station: abandoned and overgrown

Jamaica just gained a seat on the World Heritage Committee. How are we going to use that new International clout? One hope is that it becomes a catalyst to look at ways to improve the care of our historical heritage.

It’s far too easy to say “We can’t afford it.” Such things, once gone, are very hard to revive.

We can argue about the right use of scarce resources. One of the conundrums that we face in Jamaica is that there is much to do, that needs physical labour, yet we have a huge population of unemployed people, especially young persons. Could we consider schemes that would get some of them to help make more beautiful the “land that we love”?