Postcards from the past

 

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an apt saying for the latest release by Ivan Burges. 

Grand Cayman On Old Postcards offers a glimpse into the island’s past, people and its ever-changing landscape. Through a fascinating collection of old postcards dating between 1910 and 2008, this self-published booklet documents vast changes over the years – for better or worse.  

“It is by no means intended to be a full history of Grand Cayman viewed through postcards,” writes Burges in the foreword. “It is meant to be a light and gentle illustrated record. I hope it will bring back pleasant and happy memories of parts of Grand Cayman – some that are no longer with us.” 

The 30-page booklet journeys through all of the districts and highlights local landmarks and heritage sites.  

It is sure to strike a chord with long-time residents as many of the postcards capture old-time Cayman in the sleepy days before its rapid ascent as a world-class offshore financial centre and tourism destination.  

One postcard, for example, features the thatch rope industry, a major export for the island until the 1960s; another captures a catboat circa 1950; and several offer scenic views of downtown George Town – with no traffic jams. 

There are postcards of the original Hell Postal Agency in West Bay that once doubled as a resident’s home; the original Turtle Farm in West Bay; and a calendar postcard showing the first plane to land on Grand Cayman’s airfield, dated 1952. 

There are several vintage postcards in the mix, including one of Fort George, postmarked 1913; the George Town Public Square (now home to the Cayman National Museum) circa 1930; and the Peace Memorial Town Hall in 1935. 

Others showcase a quieter, quainter Grand Cayman: Government House on Seven Mile Beach in the late 1960s without security or gates; sparse development along Seven Mile Beach; and a sandy lane serving as the road in South Sound. 

Some landmarks have disappeared, including the Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach, which is now the site of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman; Royal Palms Hotel, known as “the friendliest hotel on Seven Mile Beach”, which was destroyed in a fire; and Beach Club Colony on Seven Mile Beach circa 1960, which was demolished to make way for a high-end condominium development. 

Several postcards also tell a story from their writings on the back. One sent from American visitors reads: “Very little snow here and water is warm and clear. Beer’s good and martinis congenial. We’ll hate to leave.”  

Another US resident sent this back home: “This is the life! Beautiful coral, near the beach or pool and sunshine every day.” Another, postmarked 1978: “Been having a real nice time here. Been catching a lot of our own food in the way of lobster, conch, grouper and snapper. Weather has been OK. Bugs are bad. See you soon.” 

Originally from England, Burges has lived in the Cayman Islands for more than 30 years and wanted to give readers an idea of how much the island has changed “through the eye of the dear old postcard”. 

An avid stamp collector, he has been collecting postcards as a sideline interest since he moved here. He sourced many of the postcards from American collector Tom Giraldi. His first book chronicled the history of Cayman’s post offices. 

 

Grand Cayman On Old Postcards is available for $12 at Pure Art, Pedro St. James, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and the Penny Black Stamp Shop. 

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Open air fish market downtown, postmarked 1978.

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Fort George, postmarked 1913.

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Downtown George Town in earlier times.

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