Hear Nettie’s stories at Mission House

Do you know what lies at the end of Gun Square Road in Bodden Town? Have you ever heard of Mary Antoinette Levy? Do you know where the first missionaries came from? If you answered no to any of these questions, perhaps it’s time for you to visit the Mission House.

THE MISSION HOUSE

The history of the Mission House can be traced backed to the mid 1800s. Located in historic Bodden Town at 63 Gun Square Road, the house sits on its original ironwood posts in a unique setting on the edge of a wetland. Upon surveying the grounds you will immediately notice that the front of the yard is reserved for flowering and shade trees and in the backyard tower traditional fruit trees such as Guinep, Tamarind and Indian Almond. Take a walk on the well-maintained board walk, that surrounds the house, and you will be led to a fresh water pond at the rear of the building.

Not only was this pond a reliable source of drinking water for the inhabitants of the area, but also a site used by species of birds preferring water habitats such as the Common Moorhen and the West Indian Whistling Duck.

These birds still flock to this site today and their cries are often heard by curious school children touring the grounds. Prior to its destruction by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the Mission House was one of Cayman’s oldest known dwellings. A respectable replica of the house was built and re-opened to the public in 2007. The original house was made from wattle and daub with a separate kitchen or ‘cook-room’ along the side of the house. Separate buildings reduced the risk of the main house being destroyed should a fire occur which was a particularly clever idea.

HISTORY OF THE MISSION HOUSE

The property is closely linked to the early development of Christianity and education in the Cayman Islands and Archival records reveal that from 1878-1908 it was used to house Presbyterian missionaries.

The Presbyterians focused on evangelisation with special reverence to daily human needs. The missionaries also provided the only means of reaching the local population with basic education. Evidence of our early religious ties remain today in the form of several parochial schools that grew out of these missions including Wesleyan Christian Academy and Cayman Prep & High School, which still operate today.

FAMILIES OF THE MISSION HOUSE

The exact date of construction of the Mission House is unknown, but varying accounts suggests that the house was built by slave labour. Slavery was not abolished until 1835, which would lead us to believe that the Mission House was built before that time. The house was home to several families, but stories of the last three families known to have lived there are documented and paint a colourful history of the site. Records indicate that Rev. Redpath and his wife called the Mission House home from 1897-1908. Mary Antoinette Levy or Nettie Levy as she was affectionately called, was hired as a ‘house-chatter’ at the age of nine by the Redpaths’. She was responsible for going into the district of Bodden Town and returning to discreetly share the community news with the family. Be sure to hear her story on your next visit to the Mission House! From 1908-1917 the Lyon family lived in the house and during their tenure there they added a second story, made from shiplap wood, with two dormer windows protruding from the roof. The Lyons’ were teachers and taught several children in the local community using the ground floor of the house as a school, while using the second story as their private residence. In 1920 the house was sold to Mr. Emile Watler and he and his wife Mary Jane Watler raised six children at the Mission House.

In 1997 the Mission House was purchased by the Trust, at a discounted price to compensate for the fact that Mr. Fenwick Watler, son of Emile Watler, was actually donating the historic home and its footprint of the land.

As you explore the Mission House you will hear wonderful stories about the people and events that shaped the history of these islands and will be able to gain a better understanding of the educational and religious development in the Cayman Islands. Visitors and school groups are always welcome and reservations can be made by calling 947-5805. So think about joining the National Trust or become an active member on the Bodden Town District Committee as this committee is charged with preserving the historic qualities of the Mission House.

The Mission House is open from 9am – 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. If you would like more information on the Mission House or would like training to become a tour guide please call 949-0121 or email your queries to [email protected].

This week’s column is submitted by Erica Daniel, education programmes coordinator at the Trust.

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