Postcards from Paradise

 

 

Jamaica’s Grand Hotels”

Greetings from Jamaica’s Myrle Bank Hotel, Kingston

What are you thinking about, you Northern men and women, who rush to Florida, or Bermuda, or Europe in search of a winter resort? Why, do you not know of this lost Garden of Eden, this incomparable combination of American comfort, English cleanliness and Italian Climate? And such beauty, such glory of colouring, such opulence of Nature’s best gifts! There are no reptiles and there is fruit and vegetables enough to keep one well and hearty at small cost with small labour. America cannot be long blind to the wonderful advantages offered by this beautiful spot as a winter resort…

SO WROTE the much-travelled author, Ella Wheeler Wilcox in the early 1900s. During this time, travellers to Jamaica came aboard United Fruit Company steamers and also New Yorkers, particularly, on the Hamburg-American Line West Indian cruises. A round trip from New York cost $75 and took 5-6 days.

Jamaica has provided first class accommodation since the late 1800s. In 1890 the Jamaica Hotels Law was passed to jumpstart the hotel industry. It authorized the government to guarantee the principal plus 3% interest on all debentures issued by hotel companies. This was done in great part to stimulate the staging of Jamaica’s Great Exhibition of 1891.

By the late 19th century/early 20th century (prior to the 1907 earthquake) Kingston was a thriving port town and visitors arrived on steamships by the thousands. Banks, life and fire insurance companies, building societies and discount associations flourished and electric lights began to take the place of gas in principal buildings. Harbour Street, one of Kingston’s main business areas, became known for the Myrtle Bank Hotel, one of three hotels constructed in Kingston and St. Andrew to accommodate visitors to the Great Exhibition.
Rebecca Tortello

Hotels of the Great Exhibition

Constant Spring Hotel in Kingston

THE MYRTLE BANK HOTEL
Built in the mid-1800s, the Myrtle Bank, owned by Scotsman James Gall, was converted from a shipyard into a select boarding house and offered personal advice on health issues. By 1875 when downtown Christmas Bazaars became popular and drew large crowds, the Myrtle Bank became a recreational and social centre. A music stand was erected in the centre of its tropical garden and The West India Regiment Band entertained large crowds twice a week. When Gall died the property was acquired by the government and a modern hotel with long French windows that opened on all sides into verandahs, was built on the site in preparation for the Great Exhibition of 1891. It was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake, reconstructed in 1918 and sold to the United Fruit Company. At that time it was the largest hotel in Jamaica with 205 rooms and a filtered salt water pool.

THE CONSTANT SPRING HOTEL
Also built in preparation for the 1891 Exhibition when over 300,000 visitors were expected on the island, this hotel was located at the end of an electric tram car line about six miles from the city of Kingston. It is credited with being the first building to have electricity and indoor plumbing. The Constant Spring Post Office was set up to facilitate hotel guests. By the mid-1890s it too had been taken over by the government. Situated on 165 acres, the Constant Spring Hotel had 100 rooms and was known as the Golfer’s Hotel because of its 9-hole course which was extended to 18-holes by the 1930s. It offered special dining and entertainment options for children, lavish bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining rooms and parlours, a French chef and hairdressing, as well as a gazebo and a magnificent swimming bath. Yet the hotel rarely turned a profit and in the 1940s it was sold to the Franciscan sisters who were looking for a new home for their convent and school having lost their original location on Duke St in 1937 to fire. In 1941 Immaculate Conception School opened with 99 students and 16 boarders, mostly daughters of wealthy Jamaican, Cuban, Haitian and Canadian Catholic families.

QUEEN’S HOTEL
The Queen’s Hotel, located at the corner of Heywood and Princess Streets in Kingston was erected to house the working classes at the time of the Great Exhibition. It was built by Colonel Ward, benefactor of the Ward Theatre, to supply a want long felt by country folk, that, namely of obtaining in Kingston comfortable quarters at reasonable process within their means. In the years that followed Queen’s was patronized mainly by market women who needed overnight accommodation.

THE MONEAGUE HOTEL
Not all of the hotels built for the Grand Exhibition of 1891 were located in or near to Kingston. The Moneague Hotel, now the site of the Moneague Teacher Training College, was built around 1890. In 1904 it advertised itself as the most charming in the island, serving vegetables from its gardens, water from its well, tennis, croquet and shooting. Visitors travelled by train to Ewarton and were met by a hotel carriage for the journey over Mt. Diablo. Within the next few decades when motor cars became fashionable and train usage declined, the Hotel suffered as it was no longer needed as a stopover.

Other Great Hotels

Titchfield Hotel in Portland, Jamaica

THE TITCHFIELD HOTEL
The growth of this hotel in Portland is directly linked to the banana trade which expanded in the late 1800s to make Portland the second most important town in Jamaica. By 1902 Capt. Lorenzo Dow Baker’s Boston Fruit Company (which later became the United Fruit Company) controlled the island’s entire banana trade and Baker began to use his steamships to carry tourists as well as bananas. Baker built the Titchfield Hotel in the early 1900s. In 1905 the hotel boasted 600 feet of piazza and 400 rooms. It was said that no hotel this side of the Atlantic is provided with more of those conveniences that minister so largely to the pleasure of travellers. The hotel and the parish suffered greatly with the decline in the banana industry in the 1930s. One of its great claims to fame is that it was once owned by famous Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn who died before he could put any of his plans to develop the hotel into place. In the late 1960s the hotel was destroyed by fire. Today only the ruins of this great landmark still stand.

THE RIO COBRE HOTEL
The Rio Cobre Hotel, a small hotel in Spanish Town, was named after the river running through the property. Two storeys and 27 rooms, it had a high reputation for ‘Creole’ cooking and a ‘couples rate’ of 6 shillings per day.

OTHER SMALL HOTELS

Manor House Hotel, Jamaica

Another good example is the Mandeville Hotel, set 2000 ft. above sea level in the cool Manchester hills. In 1875, buildings formerly used as British officers’ quarters were converted into the Waverly Hotel.

By 1898 it was taken over by Miss Jane Brooks, and the 17-room hotel became known as the Brooks Hotel and then, as the Mandeville Hotel. In its early days the Mandeville Hotel was famed for its distinguished patronage, cuisine, and special events such as the Flower Show Dance.

In 1971 new buildings replaced the old structure. In the mid-1980s the present owners, the McIntyres, took over the reins adding their own personal touches such as the reintroduction of the hotel’s traditional fretwork.

Many small hotels, such as the Mona Hotel, were also converted from Great Houses. Once the
residence of the owner of the Mona Sugar Estate on part of what is now the University of the West Indies, the Mona Hotel provided open air dining and offered trips to nearby Hope Botanical Gardens. Like the Mona Hotel, Shaw Park, Eaton Hall, Tryall and Richmond Hill hotels were also
former estate homes.

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