Future uncertain for dozens of old Cayman homes

| 28/10/2021 | 48 Comments
Nurse Leila’s House

(CNS): There are less than 200 homes left in Cayman that are more than 100 years old and could still be preserved. But with no legislation and limited funds, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands is urging the public to help them in an effort to protect the country’s built heritage before it is too late. Most of the homes built in the 19th century have already been lost but in the 1990s the Trust began registering homes built before the 1950s across all three islands and listed around 390 properties of historic interest.

But since then dozens have been bulldozed, left derelict or destroyed in storms, especially Hurricane Ivan, and the fate of the older ones that remain are largely in the hands of landowners, since Cayman has no legal protection at all for historic buildings.

The potential removal of an old house in West Bay to make way for a supermarket expansion is currently stirring up community interest in Cayman’s built heritage, and the Trust is asking people to donate to a new fund and lobby for legal protections for the dwindling stock of old time houses.

From Bodden Town to Cayman Brac, there are dozens of examples of traditional homes that are more than 100 years old. Several of them are in the hands of the families that built them in the first place and are still occupied as homes or businesses. But when land changes hands, there is nothing to prevent these old properties from being demolished.

In recent times some landowners, seeing the value in preserving heritage, have moved old homes from land they acquired ahead of development to new locations. But ultimately someone must pay for the upkeep of the buildings, which often need a great deal of investment to preserve them and keep them habitable.

The National Trust’s recently updated Heritage Register, which is available online here, documents traditional Caymanian homes, based on their age, historical and cultural importance, such as who lived there, the role the home played in the community, as well as the materials used in the construction, such as Ironwood, wattle and daub and silver thatch. The register is also part of the Trust’s agreement with the government to deliver historic services to the public under the law.

Even though the non-profit organisation receives a small government grant to cover some of the costs of managing the register, it is nowhere near enough to buy, preserve and maintain all of the old houses potentially under threat.

“It is essential for the National Trust to supplement these funds, primarily by way of donations, grants and sponsorships from private individuals and the private sector,” a spokesperson for the Trust said recently. “These supplemental funds are applied towards the various expenses incurred in connection with our major sites, which is upwards of CI$100,000 alone yearly to insure and maintain.”

The Trust currently has responsibility for twelve historic sites, which includes paying insurance, restoration work, maintenance, staff and educational initiatives.

The properties owned by the Trust include the Mission House the Old Savannah Schoolhouse, the Light House in East End and Nurse Leila’s House, among others.

Frank Watler’s House, which is around 110 years old, is owned by the Tourism Attraction Board, and was one of those properties that was moved to the Pedro St. James Historic Site to ensure its protection.

Julius Rankine’s House, which is also owned by the TAB, was moved to the QEII Botanic Park Heritage Garden in December 1995. Other buildings, such as the East End Library and the Constitution Hall in George Town, are owned by the crown and have some form of protection.

There are many more that are at least a century old with specific features making them worth preserving, but without the cash or legislation to preserve them, this is proving challenging for the Trust.

Arlett Elaine Diaz’s House on Loise Llewelyn Road is one of the oldest surviving occupied homes in private hands, having been built around 1850. The nearby Clayton Nixon house, which was built in the early 1800s and may have been the oldest surviving example of a wattle and daub home in George Town, has now been relocated to the Trust’s Mission House site, though its future preservation has not yet been formally funded.

Well known preserved properties such as Arthur Bodden’s Home, Print Shop and Store, a collection of iconic buildings on North Church Street in George Town, were all built sometime in the late 1890s. And McCoy & Jackson Saloon & Variety Store on Shedden Road is one of the oldest shopfronts in the capital, having been built in 1873. none of these buildings have any legal protection.

There are many more examples of homes that have so far evaded the bulldozer and stood through storms. Some have been lovingly restored by the families that own them and are unlikely to fall into the hands of developers. But their fate is dependent on the goodwill of the current owners and this might change with different owners in the future. The Trust needs financial help if it is to save them in the long term.

The challenges of funding for the National Trust are not new and have been exacerbated because of the drop in revenue-raising tours and other fundraising activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the resulting lack of tourism.

“The National Trust for the Cayman Islands was formed as a non-profit, non-governmental agency and the challenge in raising funds to purchase, restore and insure historical built properties has meant that we are not able to take on these properties without an endowment to help with the costs,” the spokesperson said, explaining that last month at the AGM the concept of a Historic Preservation Fund was raised.

This would enable people and organisations to directly contribute to the preservation of built heritage, and the Trust is now seeking ways it can engage the public in working with them on the new fund.

“When most people think of the National Trust, the general theme that comes to mind is one that speaks to a predominantly environmental focus and the environment,” the spokesperson said. “However, there is also great need for the same emphasis on Cayman’s historical buildings and other cultural aspects of preservation from the community. This passion has not always been easy to elicit for buildings and structures until the imminent loss of one is felt.”

A proposal was drafted some time ago by Richard Mileham of the Planning Department in conjunction with the National Trust’s Historic Advisory Committee, the Trust revealed. This document was submitted to government for consideration in relation to a statutory framework to govern how the built heritage of the Cayman Islands can be protected by law.

Discussions on the subject are ongoing with the government and overlays are currently in use that zone certain areas as ‘historic’. But there are no specific statutes in law that expressly prohibit the destruction of these structures once purchased.

“The National Trust welcomes opportunities for interested parties to reach out and to discuss these issues further in a way that we can all effectively lobby for legislation to protect our built heritage,” the Trust said.

The Trust says it is grateful for those who are already advocating for the protection of our national heritage treasures and encourages everyone, including schools and local businesses, to join in the preservation efforts as well as supporting the fund and the campaign for future legislation.


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Comments (48)

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  1. Raffaelle says:

    What is this We Caymanians $#@! all about. The truth is the very small handful of Caymanians that have been trying to preserve our heritage and cultural treasures are never ever recognized our even acknowledged.This recent prizing giving pomp and media frenzy had not one Caymanian being recognized and is proof on this travesty. I don’t know where in the world you renovate and old house and get and award for preserving heritage????

  2. Anonymous says:

    We caymanians are all for keeping our heritage – until we are asked to pay for their upkeep. Let’s get real. Make a tourist village, hire a few locals to keep up the story, and make govt pay for it. That way there’s always a job for a Minister’s family…

    • Anonymous says:

      Why have and still do Caymanians sell out their heritage? Easy money it seems. And it doesn’t matter expat or other Caymanian, born or paper if the price is right they sell, even if they know it’ll be bulldozed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anyone interested in a two room wattle and daub Cayman “cottage” should go buy one. They are not expensive unless you plan to move it and live in it. Then you have to deal with the fire code, sewerage, water and electric. It is not possible to keep one original for residential use. They are fire traps. So the answer is for the government to buy some up, arrange them in a little village, and make a little tourist stop.

  4. Anonymous says:

    29 @ 11:26 am – Wrong accent, bigot! Caymanians don’t use “dash” in the context of “throw away”, that’s a nearby accent. Research and come back with another 2 brain-cell bigoted response.

  5. Anonymous says:

    There are a handful of wonderful buildings like Pedro but let’s get real; most of these houses are just ugly sheds with ac units and electrical additions hanging off them with zero architectural or cultural merit.

    • Anonymous says:

      Pedro? It’s phoney and reconstructed!

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s not like many of the sheds are original.

        • Anonymous says:

          The castle has fallen into a party site rental space occupies with staff sitting down the few times I been there. Why so many people work there when nothing to do. Big man run the show there n higher his friends SMH what does it cost they people of the country. Maintain the heritage and turn it into high end vacation rental.

      • Anonymous says:

        The masonry is real.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I note that the Trust has erroneously left the Captain’s Bakery off of their register. How long before FIN is added?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wellon has worked and risked long and hard for his success.
    He at least does not post and brag his success every day with “living the life” self promoting comments.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I wan buy one but I scared of duppehs

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hats off to John Bird of Martlet design who has recently completed lovingly restoring a 100yr old home in West Bay.

  10. Kman says:

    We as Caymanians should be utterly ashamed of ourselves and also with our governments that we’ve failed to protect historical sites that is paramount to our culture and heritage. PACT should now implement new laws to allow the National Trust the powers to purchase and protect traditional Caymanians homes.
    While we’re at it Pass a law that no more ugly “Florida and horrible non Caribbean homes be built and no buildings over 6 storeys high can be built

  11. Anonymous says:

    The average Caymanian don’t even see these houses much less to be taught or appreciate the historical significance.

  12. Cayman lost says:

    Here is a question for the Trust our any of our current politicians you need to ask any of them ! What is Cayman oldest historical site where is it and who discovers it ! I will to bet that they cannot tell without consulting the Cayman national museum,

  13. Anonymous says:

    This story does not mention, nor does the Heritage Register reflect the Joseph Ritch house in Creek, Cayman Brac.

    The owners of this house are in the process of restoring this house from the late 19th century. Although this house has not been lived in recently, the owners were able to discuss the process of restoring it back into living condition – the gentleman committed to this project is the same person who restored Bert Marsons house in the late 1990’s.

    Part of the problem in our Cayman society is that it is easy just to bulldoze something down and either build back something new or in the case of Republix just use the space for parking.

    The owners of Republix have the financial means and contacts to move the historic house in question if and I mean IF they truly care about said issue. Mr. Woody Foster and whoever else it may concern should put their money where their mouth is.
    By the way, this is the same family that bulldozed down four villas on Cayman Brac southside, place called Brac Haven.
    So if you can afford to completely demolish 4 concrete villas that tells you something.

    • Anonymous says:

      Truth spoken 634am, i live on Brac and wondered why the Foster family knocked down the concrete villas that you mentioned. And yes, seen the guy in creek starting to work on house.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ah yes, Brac Haven Villas. #heritage

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why bother preserve old houses ? Who cares ? We have photographic records already, for houses that don’t look like much of value or interest to anyone. It’s not as if subsequent detailed examination is going to reveal a hoard of gold, graves of historical significance, or a valuable mineral. So let them fall apart and move on from this so-called story.

  15. Anonymous says:

    BULLDOZE THEM! Sell sell sell, the Caymanian way

  16. Anonymous says:

    The Mission House is like Pedro, nothing remaining of its original structure, just a rehash reconstruction with no genuine historical content.

  17. Anonymous says:

    List them like they do in the UK.

    Come on Caymanians protect your heritage.

  18. Anonymous says:

    what is the criteria to be a ‘real’ Caymanian vs a paper Caymanian?

    • Anonymous says:

      I am neither, and I love your country, but please protect your country’s heritage.

    • Anonymous says:

      My great-grandfather shipped the wood over from Jamaica.
      Therefore his house, which still stands, is a paper Caymanian house.

      • Big Bobo In West Bay says:

        Didn’t all the wood for the old houses come from Jamaica?

        Jamaica certainly is part of our history and culture. 🇯🇲 🇯🇲

    • Anonymous says:

      Before Cayman became a big money place, more than 95% (my estimate) of the people living in Cayman were descended from generations of people who had pretty much only known Cayman as their home.
      As Cayman opened up, people emigrated to Cayman to work in the flourishing tourism and finance industries.
      As the government expanded, expats came to fill key positions. Many of these people married Caymanians.
      After many years, hundreds of these people were given the right to become Caymanian by way of a status grant.
      Back in the day, it was really hard to come by.
      These people were the first generation of “paper Caymanians”.
      The saying was popular, “You came by plane, but I came by pain.”
      Then the hundreds became thousands and now it is getting increasingly hard to find true multi-generational Caymanians.
      One politician handed out an unheard of 3,000 status grants around 20 years ago in one fell swoop and that was the beginning of the deluge.
      From the Cayman of 50 years ago, this place is totally unrecognizable. The unique charm that fueled the boom has long since evaporated in the furnace of “progress”.

      Anyway, as a “paper” Caymanian that has been my view of how things transpired since I first washed up as piece of driftwood in the 70s. (I do not find that term offensive. It is the perfect analogy and you can make some lovely things out of driftwood.)

      It would be great to hear from some multi-generational Caymanians as to how they see it.

  19. Elvis says:

    Id love to buy one and live in it and preserve it .

    Too much old culture being swept aside. Homes are very much worth preserving.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Scott’s Development 🤣🤣🤣. Schilling got big plans for that.

    • Anonymous says:

      Schilling is full of hot air. In another 3-5 years he will be long gone from Cayman Brac – if not sooner. If any money was to be made from investing in Brac all the well known families here would be doing it and not selling out.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Please don’t let this happen infront of your own eyes….everyone, ‘real’ Caymanians, paper Caymanians, medium and long term residents, those in tourism….please go read John Doak’s book if you have NO IDEA about Caymanian development, and get the construction boards and planning boards and maybe (!!) ALT and some other lovely people who’ve benefited from construction here in recent decades (yes, YOU CIREBA!!!!Lund! Butler! Wellen! Crighton! Bovell! And about 300 other wannabee’s!)) and sort this

    Dart could buy and refurbish every single one of these properties and not even blink at the lesser weight in his wallet

    My point is, the money is here. The buildings are fabulous. We have no historical culture preservation of real note. We have a chance….take it.

    Come on.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok, not going to lie, I’ve nit paid attention to this before…I’m going to take a look

    • SMB resident. says:

      Oh I get it, you are just salty at Wellon’s successes.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are the buildings really fabulous? Or just oldish? There should be preservation but not just for the sake of preservation. There should be an assessment by Gov’t or the Trust of the historical or cultural value of each site and steps taken to preserve heritage, but that won’t be everything not should it be.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why you gotta go throw Dart’s name out there. He is not your daddy. He only got status in order to make life easier. He is NOT the Cayman savior. Stop expecting him to buy your island back. Stop selling out.

      Stop expecting Dart to NOT be a vulture capitalist. He is the one buying up all of your properties!!!!

      Jeezumpease People like you make me sick. Trying to suck on Dart’s teet like an animal

      • Anonymous says:

        He saved the Catboat Club, formerly Whitehall Bay Restaurant. But I guess that wasn’t Cayman heritage enough for you eh?

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