The Cayman Islands, and Grand Cayman in particular, are rich with local history that spans back hundreds of years.
If you’re visiting us, whether looking for Cayman Islands real estate for sale or just on a trip, make it a point to visit some of these historically significant sites.
Pedro St. James National Historic Site
The Pedro St. James Castle, also known as St. James Castle or simply as “The Castle” is the oldest stone building surviving in the Cayman Islands.
Built by William Eden in 1780, the structure was substantially larger than its smaller neighbors and must have been an imposing sight at the time.
During its history, which spans four centuries, “Pedro Castle” has been used as a jail, court, assembly house, and even a restaurant and hotel.
Perhaps most famously, it is known as “The Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands,” as it was the location where, on December 5th, 1831, Caymanians assembled and decided to form an elected parliament.
Over the years, the building has survived lightning strikes, hurricanes, fires, and vandalism. By the early 1900s, all that remained of the building were its original stone walls.
However, in 1991, the Government of the Cayman Islands purchased the site with the intention of restoring it; today, it stands as a beacon of Caymanian Heritage to both locals and visitors.
The Mission House, located in Bodden Town (the first capital of the Cayman Islands) is another of the islands’ oldest buildings.
It was built in the 1700s and is believed that it originally housed Presbyterian missionaries; consequently, the Mission House is seen as one of the most significant religious and educational historical landmarks in the Cayman Islands.
By the early 1900s, the house was occupied by a Commissioner, George Hirst, but soon after that the building changed hands and was repurposed for use as a community school.
Unfortunately, the original structure was destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan but in the time since it has been rebuilt and today, the National Trust hosts tours and cooking and craft classes at the location.
Elmslie Memorial United Church
The Elmslie Church, located in George Town on Seafarers Way, is one of the oldest churches in the Cayman Islands.
The history of Elmslie Church is an interesting one, as it came about nearly by accident. In 1830, the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica sent a mission to Africa, but the ship was wrecked near the Cayman Islands and got no further.
This is where the history of the Elmslie Church begins. The Mission ship was carrying the Reverend Hope Waddell, who, when he landed on the Cayman Islands, noticed that there was no established Presbyterian church there.
He appealed to the church in Jamaica, which appointed the Reverend James Elmslie, who resolved, when no one else would volunteer, to visit the Cayman Islands and establish the Presbyterian Church there.
He visited the islands and traversed them widely by foot and horseback, establishing churches; among them was the original Elmslie Church, named after him. Unfortunately, the original church he established (which was at the site of a former Anglican church that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1838) was also destroyed by a hurricane in 1876.
In fact, the three churches that have stood on the same site have all been destroyed by hurricanes.
In 1920, members of the church selected Captain Rayal Bodden, who was also a shipwright, to build a new church that would withstand hurricanes.
It is said that he quipped, “Anyone who can build a ship can build a church, but not anyone who can build a church can build a ship.”
His church - the present Elmslie Church, still named in honor of the Reverend James Elmslie - has stood to the present day and only recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Today, if you visit the corner of Harbor Drive and Fort Street, you may notice what looks like a small hut atop a pole.
It might look like nothing other than a local curiosity, but this hut is of a lookout post that marks the location where Fort George once stood.
Fort George, built late in the 1700s, originally overlooked the harbor and held embrasures for 8 cannons. The fort was intended to defend the island against attack by sea.
The original structure had imposing walls of coral rock and limestone, ranging in thickness from 2 to 5 feet.
During the Second World War, the lookout post - the hut - was added to the top of a tall silk cotton tree and was used by Home Guard watchmen to keep an eye out for German U-boats that prowled the Caribbean.
Today, the spot is also home to a 3-part mural that depicts scenes from the life of the fort, including Spanish marauders and German U-boats.
The Seamen’s Memorial
Across from the legislative assembly, at Heroes Square, and not far from Fort George, stands the Cayman Islands Seamen’s Memorial.
Dedicated on May 10th, 2003, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the islands, the Seamen’s Memorial depicts a father and son on a ship’s deck and is an homage to the sailors whose lives and works helped to shape the Cayman Islands.
The George Town Step Well
Freshwater is a dear commodity for sailors. That is one of the reasons that 4 freshwater wells were recorded on Grand Cayman in the 1700s - their location would be vital to ships visiting the area.
Located in the Bayshore Mall and protected by a pane of glass, the George Town Step Well is believed to be one of those original 4 wells.
It wasn’t rediscovered until 2003, but it has since been preserved by the National Museum and the family on whose land the well is located.
Fun fact, the Grand Cayman Water Authority tested the well water after its rediscovery and it is still deemed good enough to drink.
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If you fall in love with the area, make it a place to stay, or simply purchase a vacation home. Take a look through our listings and get in touch with us at 345-949-5250 to discuss your goals.
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