Bodden Town is known as the “cradle of the nation” because it was where most of the history of these islands was made. Like every other district in Cayman, church played a very important part in the lives of the Bodden Town people and as Governor Peter Lloyd once put it, there is no part of the world more beautiful than the gardens at Pedro St James Castle in the district of Bodden Town.
Over the years The Presbyterian Church bell chimed times of joy, times of loss and sadness. For 100 odd years this bell, which can be heard though-out the community still, signals town folks to church for morning worship.
Bodden Town has not changed that much since the 1970s, recalls Church of God Pastor Winston Rose, 68.
Living in Pease Bay he remembers lots of sand flies and of course the drive-in theatre for the loud music “Cherry oh Baby’ played each night before show time.
“We came to Bodden Town in 1971, electricity had just come to the eastern district. The roads were covered with marl and traffic was scarce. A car could travel from Bodden Town to George Town without passing three cars on the road and there were no traffic jams.” He recalls Northward road just beginning to develop and Manse Road having a white washed, lime keel, wattle and daub house with very few people living in the area.
The shop owners have not changed much either, Mr. Logan’s shop is still in operation and the little Seaview restaurant run by Lillian Barnes, still operates today under other management. Bodden Town also had a dairy farm, recalls Pastor Rose. The man who operated the place at the time would bring milk to the Town Hall where I was attending school and later on when the company started to make chocolate, I would go there with friends for the broken pieces of chocolate that could not be sold.
Growing up Bodden Town for me consisted of an area within a three mile radius stretching along the coastline from Guard House Hill to the Everglo Drive-in Theatre in Pease Bay. There were overgrown pastures, a few zinc top houses, Mr. Logan’s shop, a post office the size of a bathroom, a jailhouse with no guard; three churches and quiet Sunday mornings.
Basic items were scarce and most residents could do nothing else but rely on each other.
There was no such thing as east or west, one either went “to-leward” or “to-windard”
Besides the wooden structure, that served as the Church of God Church built in the 1940’s, Mr. Biddle’s shop, the town hall and few homes there was nothing much else “to-leward.
“To-windard made up Mr. Logan shop, a few homes, the post office and jail, Presbyterian Church, the community cemetery and the drive in theatre, which showed mostly western and kung Fu movies.
There was little or nothing happening by the way of work in Savannah in those early years, recalls Lindbergh Eden, 85.
“Even schooling was limited, a two room dwelling home owned by teacher Mary Coe served as school for the 36 students she taught, from ABC’s to Jamaica exams.”
Residents did a lot of fishing off Pedro Castle iron shore, this was combined with what they harvested from the garden to feed their families.
There was only a tiny store on Pedro Castle sandy road owned by Telford Eden selling items such as coffee, beans, sugar, flour and other basics. “Despite the lack, no one went hungry because there was lots of sharing and looking out for each other,” said Mr. Eden. In later years Merren built a little branch on the corner of Newland road which sold a few extras like salt fish and canned goods.
After the 1932 storm life got a little bit better for residents when a German came to the island to buy log wood to export for dye. At the time the island was saturated with logwood and everyone that could go in the woods to cut a tree and strip the bark went. Mr Eden’s father had a horse and wagon which was used to transport trees, passengers and other goods from George Town to Bodden Town.
In 1936 Tom Tommy Jackson acquired a truck and a car and when Mr. Eden was sixteen years of age he secured an old 1927 Buick for twenty pounds from Ira Thompson. The Buick was used to transport the Governor and other such dignitaries that came to the island. “Twenty pounds was hard to come by in those days,” says Mr. Eden “It took me quite a while to pay off but he did not run me down for the payments.”
Everyone went to church with the two buildings that serviced the community being the Church of God Full Gospel Hall and the Presbyterian Church.
Water was drawn from wells or stored in cisterns or kerosene drums collected off the roof tops. “It rained regular those days not like today. I am sure the Lord provided for us,” said Mr. Eden.
In recent years Savannah and Breakers would be included as Bodden Town.
“I never dreamed that I would live to see the day Cayman get rich and changes take place in Bodden Town. Lots of mosquitoes and very little food is what I recall,” says Cedric Levy 86.
Bodden Town road was just rocks and red dirt packed in holes to smooth it over and whatever material the men could dig from alongside the road to get to George Town, recalls Mr. Levy.
There were no street lights in those days; many nights when the sun went down my mother would tell me to take the condensed milk pan, used as drinking cups and go up to Miss Maggie Webster’s place for a little kerosene oil to put in the lamps. People were very poor and the few families that did have anything would share with others.
Women filled the neighbourhood with laughter and chatter as they went about the day’s work around the home and yard. My mother preparing breakfast on the caboose wood fire would shout across the fence to Miss Aggie scrubbing her husband’s clothes on the wooden washboard and just like clock work the clip clop sounds of Ha Hee on his cross old donkey Strictnine could be heard making the bend.
There was only one radio in my neighbourhood that never shut off. In between the drifting clouds of smoke from scattered home wood fires and the smells of fish and fritters cooked in coconut oil, a steady stream of BBC radio programmes and music could be heard.
James Webster was the Bodden Town millionaire in those times, recalls Mr. Levy. “His boats were running up until I became big man. In fact, one of his ships the Balboa sunk in George Town Harbour loaded with tobacco and other items.”
Although it may be a different way of life in Bodden Town nowadays, according to Pastor Rose the overall, physical look of Bodden Town has not actually changed much though most of the wattle and daub homes that were situated on the seaside have all disappeared because of development.
Points of interest
Pedro St. James Castle
Cayman’s roots of early government were planted at Pedro St. James Castle in Savannah.
Bodden Town Hall
The building was constructed in the 1930’s and was considered the largest building in the district. It served the community as meeting place, school, dance hall and other functions.
This site was one of two defence points into the town. Cannons protect the western approach from into the town on Guard House hill. Gun Square:
The second defence point. Two cannons on each side of the road leading to Bodden Town Mission House overlook the sea protecting a battery approach from the eastern end.
Savannah School House
The construction of a one-room local schoolhouse was a major event for the growing community of Savannah. The 32 storm destroyed the previous school at Spotts. Today the building is preserved and used as a history reference point.
Savannah Post office
Built in the 1960’s at a cost of CI$479.79 one of the districts oldest business landmarks on Shamrock road.
The building has served the community for over 150 years and the bell which still rings today has chimed times of joy, times of loss and sadness and ran high with hymns of praise.