A look back at Fort George saga

 

In the centuries since Fort George was first built, the small fortification has faced many enemies. 

Pirates, Spanish marauders, German submarines, and rowdy school children all have challenged the fort’s defences.  

On Tuesday, 11 January, 1972, however, the stout fort faced its final battle – and lost. 

“The battle was not against a pirate ship, but a young man astride a growling, yellow bulldozer,” the Caymanian Weekly reported after the incident. “It was no contest.” 

That young man was the late Jim Bodden. 

Mr. Bodden owned the land the fort sat on and reportedly took its fate into his own hands after being denied planning permission to build an office building adjacent to the site multiple times. 

The building was denied planning permission three separate times: the first time for aesthetic reasons, the second time for blocking the view of the ocean (“Ridiculous,” Mr. Bodden is reported as saying.), and the third time because the land did not measure 150 feet deep from road to shore as the law required. 

In the front page article on the cover of the Caymanian Weekly, Mr. Bodden said that after being told the government could not accept the land as a gift, he had tried to sell them the fort. 

“I said all right, I’ll sell it to you for $1 and give you $5,000 to perpetuate it. In return, I want the right to build on the other side,” he was reported as saying. 

According to the government, however, neither offer was ever made in writing and Mr. Bodden was denied planning permission for the third time. 

Mr. Bodden’s frustrations about the delays in planning permission were augmented by the fact that the new Development and Planning Law 1971 was to go into effect on 17 January, 1972. 

The law, reported by the Northwester as the Land Development Control Law, included a section that allowed the Central Planning Authority to submit a development plan that could allow provisions for the “preservation of buildings, reefs, sites and objects of artistic, architectural, archeological, or historical interest”. 

The fort was destroyed six days before the law was signed by Governor Kenneth Crook. 

According to the Northwester, Mr. Bodden “decided that his only recourse was to break down the fort and rebuilt [sic] it at Prospect before the new law went into effect”. 

The fort was never rebuilt and the only piece that remains standing at the original site was saved by the protests of on-lookers. 

In the following issue of the Caymanian Weekly, the publication interviewed several locals and one tourist about the destruction of the fortification. 

Most of those polled seemed to agree that Mr. Bodden had the right to demolish the fort since it was on his property, but that what had happened was very upsetting and the fort could never be restored. 

“To see efforts being made to restore it is like buying a sack of feathers and throwing them to the winds and then trying to restore them,” Ernest Panton, an official member of the Legislative Assembly, is reported as saying in the Caymanian Weekly. 

The destruction of Fort George may have had a silver lining, however, in the form of the establishment of the Cayman Islands Historical Society. 

The late Desmond Seales, who was publisher of the Northwester magazine at the time, organised a public meeting to discuss the formation of the society after the fort was destroyed. 

Though the formation of such a society had long been discussed, the Cayman Islands Historical Society was not established until the Cayman Islands lost what Mr. Panton had called “our main link 
with the past”. 

Fort George

In the front page article on the cover of the Caymanian Weekly, Mr. Bodden said that after being told the government could not accept the land as a gift, he had tried to sell them the fort. – Photo: File

Fort George Today

Fort George today
Samantha Bonham
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3 COMMENTS

  1. I totally agree, Banana Republic.

    This is the same mentality that continues to result in the slow, steady destruction of our country.

    Mr. Bodden talked about how the Development and Planning Law of 1971 was not good for Caymanians. I’m sorry if it annoys me that all my generation has is the outline of a building that used to be there instead of the fort itself because Mr. Bodden wanted to build a two storey office building.

    Fort that used to protect our islands or 2 storey office building? Only a short-sighted fool would place value on the latter over the former.

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