Mission House: A portal to the past

Bodden Town’s Mission House invites visitors to step back in time, its rooms depicting aspects of daily life of three different families known to have lived there. 

Built on a site used by settlers since the 1700’s, the house rose to prominence in the 1800’s. It became known as the “Mission House” because of the early missionaries, teachers and families who lived there while establishing a Presbyterian church and school in Bodden Town. Those missionaries included Reverend Thomas Redpath and his wife, and Edgar J. and Anna Bernard Lyon. 

The Watlers were the last family to live in the house, with several generations calling it home over a period of 77 years. 

In 1969, Bert Watler and his wife Veleen moved in after returning to Cayman from Venezuela. 

Bert’s son Pedro Watler, 57, recalled that when growing up there with his four siblings, there was no electricity or running water; the family used lamplight and candles, and pumped water by hand from a well and a cistern on the property. 

“We had to fan ourselves to sleep at night,” said Mr. Watler about the hot summer nights. 

“We had no TV. In fact, no one in the neighborhood had a TV at the time. I recall some people having a little radio which could be heard all over the community in the evening time, when it was blasted for everyone to hear the BBC news.” 

The family eventually moved out and the house sat empty for several years. In 1996, it was acquired from Fenwick Watler by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. 

In 2004, the Mission House was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan. Despite many obstacles, the decision was taken to rebuild the house. 

A team of volunteers dismantled and stored the original rafters and purlins for use in the reconstruction, and a number of ironwood posts, which were still in good condition, were preserved and reused. 

Now open for guided tours by appointment, the Mission House also houses a small resource room organized by the Cayman Islands National Archive, as well as a display from the Cayman Islands National Museum. The on-site retail store sells toys, refreshments and locally made crafts. 

For more information on the Mission House and other National Trust historic properties, visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky. 

The Mission House in Bodden Town has a long history, having once housed the district’s early Presbyterian missionaries and later several families. The National Trust’s efforts have restored the house and grounds allowing visitors to experience a snapshot of life in Cayman’s early days. 

Mission House
Mission House and its grounds offer visitors the chance to step back in time. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

A fundraising event at Mission House before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.

A fundraising event at Mission House before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.

The last residents

The last residents. Front row: the late Veleen Watler and husband Bert Watler. Back row: Jane, Pedro, Emilita and Rudy Watler. Not pictured: Della Watler. – Photo: Jewel Levy


  1. All well said about the Mission House, however can anyone say why it has been closed for almost a year.
    The grounds look nothing like this. It is very dilapidated flooded and rundown gardens and side walks. Visit the area and see for yourself, as it sit along the side the un-kept bush dirty overgrown Harry McCoy Park.

  2. For the record, the Mission House is not "closed". It is still open for tours by appointment. We do not have the resources to hire someone to sit at the Mission House waiting for a few tourists to trickle in, but rather have tried our best to accommodate guests and give tours on a regular basis in ways that small historic properties all around the world operate–by prior appointment. The grounds of the Mission House are maintained on a weekly basis. We have also been trying diligently to raise funds to undertake some needed repairs to the boardwalk and parking lot areas. It would be a great help if those who critisize and complain, use some of that energy to help us raise funds to get some of these repairs done. After all, the properties owned by the National Trust are for all of the people of the Cayman Islands and we could use everyone’s help in the upkeep of these properties.

  3. Re: "Posted by National Trust": I live a stone throw away from the Mission house, and my grand mother was a house chatter at the mission house one hundred years ago, I donated antique to the mission house when it first opened and was one of the persons who constantly were there for the restoration helping.
    If anyone doubt the condition that the surroundings is in, my suggestion would be for the public to take a visit there today and you will be astonished to see it looks nothing like this picture.
    Yes it may be a great help if those who complain and criticize about it like myself; use some of my energy to help raise funds.
    Ok "National Trust", please ask me on this Media what do you want me to do to help?
    Maybe go and rake the yards, nail up the board walk, trim the trees, paint the building, use my dump truck and fill up the yard from the flooding. plant some flowers beds, Or at nights use a stick and keep the chickens from messing up. So much to do…..please call me and ask me which one you would like me to do instead of me having to complain about its condition. I am available, and if I do not hear from anyone at the "National Trust", that means you are not really serious about getting things done. My phone number and email is easy to get. Thanks

  4. We’re glad you asked Twyla! We will be hosting a work day at the Mission House on November 29th (ALL DAY) and would welcome all the extra hands we can get. Hopefully we will get enough volunteers to tackle most if not all of the issues. Hope to see you there!