Jamaica has attracted the interest of those from far away places for centuries. First inhabited by native peoples, including the Arawak, Jamaica then spent time under Spanish rule before being possessed by the British. The wealthy classes of these European nations controlled vast territories in Jamaica, building large and profitable plantations, increasing their wealth with profits made on export products. They built fabulous mansions and homes, many of which still stand today, restored and open to tourists.
Certainly the most famous of these colonial era great houses is the Rose Hall Great House, located on Rose Hall Highway, which is a short drive outside of Montego Bay. The lurid rumors and supernatural tales that have been associated with this house for centuries have excited imaginations for generations, inspiring several novels and books to feature it as a backdrop. The home was built by John Palmer, originally of Britain, during the latter part of the 18th century. At one time, it was a vast plantation, where 2,000 slaves tended the sugar cane and other crops.
The wife of John Palmer’s grandnephew achieved notoriety through the rumors of numerous murders, sexual impropriety of – what was then – the highest degree, abject cruelty to the slaves of the plantation, voodoo, witchcraft, and her own violent death. Known now as the White Witch of Rose Hall, some believe her restless spirit still wanders there today. Tours are available every day between 9am and 6pm, with the final tour of the day starting at about 5:15pm. There is an admission fee of $15 for people 12 years of age and older and $10 for children 11 years and under.
Another late 18th century home of interest is the Greenwood Great House, located on Route 1A, a short drive outside of the Montego Bay area. This remarkable example of Gregorian influenced architecture was the home of Richard Barrett, who was the cousin of the famous poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This 14 room structure retains more of its original feel than do others of the era, as it has endure less renovation processes and still contains a great deal of the original furnishings, oil paintings and household items, including fine china. Among these is a collection of musical instruments that is simply amazing to see. Not surprisingly, the family library is a part of the tour, and has books dating back to the 1600’s. This lovely, historic home is open to the public daily, from 9am to 6pm. There is a $12 admission fee for those 12 years of age and older, and a $6 fee for children 11 and under.
There are many more of these great houses that are open to the public for tours and exploration. Among them are the Seville Great house and Heritage Park, in Saint Ann, home to numerous artifacts and relics of interest and includes views from a variety of perspectives in Jamaican history, the Brimmer Hall Estate in Ocho Rios, and the Appleton Estate.
These beautiful structures, shadowed by the oppression of the people upon which they were built, hold an important place in the history and culture of Jamaica. Any one of them is certainly worth an afternoon’s time to marvel and contemplate.