The completion of the nearly year-long restoration of historic Fort George was feted Thursday with ceremony and a champagne reception.
Distinguished guests gathered at the George Town site on the afternoon of Feb. 6 to mark the conclusion of renovations by the National Trust that began on April 23, 2013.
“The ruins [of the fort] were donated to the Trust in 1987 and were declared inalienable to be protected forever,” said Peter Davey, National Trust vice chairman. “The structure was then stabilized and officially dedicated in August 1992.
“We stand here some 27 years later, officially reopening the site after an incredibly generous donation from the Walkers Foundation allowed the Trust to reinterpret the site in a fresh and modern way whilst remaining true to the site’s historic roots.”
Walkers Charitable Foundation donated $50,000 to the Trust in 2012 for the work.
“It’s been several years in progress and we’re delighted to see this wonderful restoration project finally reach fruition,” said Mark Lewis, senior partner at Walkers.
“Walkers has been a major supporter of the National Trust’s great work for many years. We believe that the preservation of our environment and heritage is vitally important for our future generations and for Cayman’s success as a tourist destination.
“We recognize our obligation to support our community environment and infrastructure whenever we can,” he said. “We wanted to help ensure that Fort George remained a part of George Town’s landscape and heritage for many years to come.”
Councilor Alva Suckoo gave a speech on behalf of Premier Alden McLaughlin which outlined the significance of keeping the historic site alive.
“Like the aquamarine waters just behind us here today, the history of our small islands is deep, colorful and entrenched. The new Fort George historic site serves as an excellent reminder of this,” said Mr. Suckoo.
“For decades, many of us have driven past this important historic site with only the most basic awareness of its role in our history. Some may have even wondered when the site finally would give way to the development. Thanks to the National Trust and its supporters, that has not happened. Instead, the Cayman Islands and its residents have improved access to a historic gem right in the heart of our islands’ capital,” he added.
He urged the public to “come out and experience this historic site” and to celebrate its significance and cultural importance in Caymanian history.
Ocean view mural
Among the most eye-catching of the renovations was the large three-piece mural painted in hues of blue and pink by artist John Broad. The mural mirrors the sea view that historically would have been seen at the site.
“Some of you will remember that a few short years ago the sea was visible from this very location, and we are pleased to have commissioned John Broad to bring back some of our ocean view through the murals now hanging in place on a newly constructed back wall,” said Mr. Davey.
In 2003, Mr. Broad led the construction of the “Wall of History,” a joint National Gallery and Quincentennial committee commission on three walls alongside the courthouse in George Town, which was presented to Prince Edward.
The three murals painted for this site depict different scenes throughout the lifespan of Fort George.
The lookout house
During World War II, a tall silk cotton tree was used as a lookout post where members of the Home Guard would climb into its branches to watch for German submarines. Today, salvaged parts from the lookout post were used to erect a similar depiction, and native plants have been added.
“This little lookout house has salvaged parts from the original – the two double doors that you see at the front, and two of the windows are original to the 1940s lookout house. The original house was unfortunately in very bad condition when we tried to restore it,” said Denise Bodden, historic and education development manager of the National Trust. “It was not going to be able to be elevated, so we saved as much as we could from it, and we salvaged other materials from Mission House.”
CUC staff spent a full day erecting the house on a pole, and to that effect Ms. Bodden said, “What’s the use of a lookout house if it’s sitting on the ground?”
Clifton Bodden, who also attended the ceremony, said Fort George is a site he was familiar with, having served as a sergeant at the fort during World War II. The 90-year-old said he fondly remembers the view from the cotton tree and recalls being able to see the entire north part of the island as there were no tall trees or buildings at that time.
“We had a little cotton tree now for a lookout. We had 42 steps from the ground to the cotton tree and in that loookout we had some very good binoculars, and when you go up in that, you could see everything from Spotts beach down from the North West point, because at that time we didn’t have all those tall trees and buildings,” said Mr. Bodden.
History of Fort George
The fort dates to the 1700s and was built by Caymanians using local coral rock and limestone. The oval base of the fort measured approximately 57 feet by 38 feet. The purpose was to defend Grand Cayman from attacks by Spanish militiamen from Cuba. Piracy on the high seas was over by this time, but there was still frequent lawless activity. Caymanians were not comfortable with the knowledge that they were so close to the Spanish colony of Cuba and possible attack.
In 1972, a battle between the Cayman Islands Planning Authority and a local developer ensued over the future of Fort George. The developer took it into his own hands to demolish the waterfront site, but it was saved by a group of concerned citizens. Fifteen years later the ruins were donated to the National Trust and it was officially dedicated as a historic site in 1992.