Campaign continues to restore Nurse Leila's house

Urgent work is needed to restore the structural integrity of an historic home on West Church Street just off the four-way junction in West Bay, according to the National Trust. 

The building was once the home of nurse and midwife Irksie Leila Yates, fondly known locally as Nurse Leila. 

The West Bay heritage committee held a fundraiser at Ristorante Papagallo last month to raise money for the restoration by auctioning unique paintings, thatch work and sculptures donated by Caymanian artists, including Darvin Ebanks, Charles Frederick, Lizzie Powell, Pat Nicholson and Deal Ebanks. The event raised approximately $16,000, which will go toward restoration. 

History 

Irksie Leila Yates was born in 1899 and was the youngest of six children born to Arthur and Jacintha Yates. When she decided to pursue a career in nursing, she walked from West Bay to George Town to attend lectures. She began her training under Dr. George Overton in 1917.  

In 1921, she progressed to midwifery. By the time she retired in 1971, she had delivered more than 1,000 babies, many of them in women’s homes or at her West Bay home, which the National Trust has owned since 2006 thanks to a donation from Maples Finance. 

Originally located near what was Prentice Powell’s shop on Boggy Sand Road, the home was moved in 1917 to where it sits today, due to beach erosion and hurricane damage. It is said to be the first house in Cayman to have glass windows installed, an event which caused great excitement among neighborhood children, whom Nurse Leila recalled gathering outside in order to peer through the panes.  

The house stands as an example of architectural and construction development in Cayman, and also sits in an area of historical importance for West Bay, in close proximity to Mr. Dick’s Bakery, Mr. Stafford’s Ice Cream Shop, Capt. Lorraine Henning’s house and Caleb Powell’s house on Henning Lane, which was used by doctors, dentists and Mrs. Rose, the dispenser.  

The West Bay home, which rests on endemic ironwood tree posts, is important, the National Trust says, both because of Nurse Leila’s contributions to the community and the increasing rarity of Cayman’s wattle and daub buildings. There are no houses of this kind left in the Sister Islands, and those in Grand Cayman are gradually disappearing.  

“It is vital for the Trust to have the needed repairs carried out on Nurse Leila’s historic home as this is the only wattle and daub home the Trust has in its portfolio of historic properties,” said Christina Pineda, executive director of the National Trust. “Nurse Leila was too important a fixture in Cayman’s history for us to do anything less than our best to honor her memory and her life’s work.” 

Restoration work on the property is estimated to cost between $175,000 and $250,000. 

Recognition 

Nurse Leila, who died in 1996, has been posthumously recognized for her achievements. She already graces Cayman Islands stamps as part of the “Pioneers in our History” range, released in 2011, and she was honored this year at the National Heroes Awards, which recognized those who have contributed to the development of health services and wellness in the Cayman Islands. 

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Nurse Leila appears on Cayman Islands stamps as part of the ‘Pioneers in our History’ range.

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The West Bay home is the only wattle and daub house in the National Trust’s portfolio.
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