Preserving Cayman’s Built Heritage
Words by Stuart Wilson of the National Trust of the Cayman Islands. Photos courtesy of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. Artwork by Sanke Weyers.
The style of old Caymanian homes is distinctly different from dwellings built in any other part of the world due to the use of materials only found in the Cayman Islands. These include Ironwood and Silver-Thatch Palm, both known for their durability, contributing to many homes still standing today. In 1987 ‘The Historic Programme of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands’ (NTCI) was formed in conjunction with the National Trust Law. Since its inception, it has been preserving the Cayman Islands’ built heritage for present and future generations.
As part of its mandate, the Historic Programme seeks to preserve, promote, and educate the community and its residents, and people worldwide, about the importance these structures played for the early settlers of the Cayman Islands. Many of these historic properties can still be found around Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands.
Currently, the National Trust is responsible for twelve properties representative of the early era of construction in Cayman. One of these, the Mission House in Bodden Town, is the flagship holding of the NTCI. It is also where much of the National Trust’s cultural exchange takes place in the form of cooking classes and tours that offer a glimpse into the lives of early Caymanians and illustrate how they sustained themselves by using the natural environment.
Other properties owned by the National Trust include the Guard House Park (also in Bodden Town); Heritage Beach in Frank Sound; the East End Lighthouse; Watler’s Cemetery in Old Prospect; Fort George and Dr. Roy’s Ironshore in George Town; Nurse Leila’s and Miss Izzy’s in West Bay; Eldemire House in Cayman Brac, Jackson’s Wall/Manor in Newlands and the Old Savannah Schoolhouse in Savannah, Newlands.
Another component of the Historic Programme’s work is to document the remaining traditional homes in the Cayman Islands for inclusion on the National Trust’s Heritage Register. The collating of data in this regard is a massive undertaking, and, as a result, volunteers are enlisted to assist with the biennial exercise.
Teams under the supervision of the Historic Programme Manager and the Historic Advisory Committee take to the streets in each district to capture images of the homes and conduct interviews with descendants of those who lived in them, when necessary. The data collected is on the National Trust’s Heritage Register website for public reference.
There are over 300 properties on the Heritage Register, most of which are in West Bay and George Town. Most recently, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands worked along with the Ministry of Culture to save one of Cayman’s last standing authentic homes. Quaintly known in the community as the ‘Clayton Nixon House’, this traditional home stood for nearly 150 years on Goring Avenue – a reminder of the past and a testament to the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Caymanian people. The house was carried on the back of a lowboy from George Town to Mission House, where it now rests, awaiting the final stage of the project, which will involve restoration and finishing.
In addition to these efforts, the NTCI has been assisting in the development of a National Planning Framework, which seeks to positively influence decision-making regarding preserving historic buildings via statutory framework updates that will inform the Islands’ building code.
For more information about the Historic Programmes, contact, Stuart Wilson:
or visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky
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