Ancient stepwell restored

As a country without rivers or lakes, Cayman’s freshwater wells were once a vital resource of life for early settlers and passing vessels. One such primitive water source – a stepwell – has been discovered and recently preserved.

The well was first uncovered by CINM volunteer Robin Gibb. After much diligent work to uncover each step, it can now be viewed from where it sits – below framed safety glass set in the floor of a commercial store in Bayshore Mall, George Town. The preservation of the stepwell was a joint project of the property owners, the Kirkconnell family, and the Cayman Islands National Museum (CINM).

The stepwell originally served Hog Stye Bay, now a popular destination for thousands of cruise visitors annually, and Cayman’s only commercial harbour.

In light of its archaeological importance, the owners decided to make the well an integral part of their new commercial shopping centre. The Bayshore stepwell is believed to be one of four such stepwells documented in the maps of British Admiralty Surveyor George Gauld in the early 1700s.

Rescue work commenced six years ago by CINM volunteers, and staff. They recovered numerous artifacts and cleaned out the well, removing silt, water and debris. Subsequently, the Cayman Islands Water Authority tested the water – and rated it still good to drink today!

CINM’s Curation and Programmes Manager Debra Barnes-Tabora said. ‘The Museum is especially grateful to Mr Gerry Kirkconnell and the rest of his family for allowing the Museum to conduct salvage and archaeology work at the site, and for preserving the step-well for the people of the Cayman Islands, by incorporating it into their development plans.’

Kirk Freeport’s Marketing Manager Lance Kidder explained that the facility includes climate controls such as dehumidifiers below the floor, which helps to maintain clear visibility of the well.

Visitors to Bayshore Mall can walk safely on the glass covered well to look down the steps and into the water. Kirkconnell’s Site Manager Patrick Sinclair was on hand to oversee the installation of the well’s signage and small display of recovered archaeological finds.

For more information on this site, contact the CINM on 949 8344.