From time to time, a fleeting glimpse of a low stone wall, a small elevated hut, and some cannons draw the eyes of pedestrians and motorists passing by the corner of Harbour Drive and Fort Street in downtown George Town.
But this modest site offers a fascinating peek into Cayman’s past. The small space, now featuring a colorful three-panel mural, is the remains of a significant strategic emblem of Cayman’s history.
A National Trust historic site, diminutive Fort George, which received a much-needed facelift in 2013, offers a convenient place to pause on George Town’s busy thoroughfare.
“The origins and early history of the fort are uncertain,” National Trust Education Coordinator Karie Bounds noted in a press release.
“It is known that in 1662, the new governor of Jamaica, Lord [Thomas] Windsor, received royal instructions to take charge of the ‘Caimanes Islands …. By planning and raising fortifications upon them.’ Although there was some settlement, the task of fortifying the small outpost was not undertaken until sometime around 1790.”
The Trust states that Fort George was built with local rock and limestone with a design based on the typical English military structures of that era, and its oval shape measured approximately 57 feet by 38 feet, with eight openings for cannons around the sides and a mahogany gate on the landward side.
The walls were of varying thickness and only about 5 feet tall, which the Trust says might indicate that defense requirements were not ideal.
Ms. Bounds noted the original purpose of the fort was to defend Grand Cayman from attacks by Spanish marauders from Cuba, and was manned by local militia. While the heyday of piracy on the high seas was over by this time, fishing and turtling fleets were locked in fierce competition with one another.
“Caymanians were not very comfortable with the knowledge that they were so close to the Spanish colony of Cuba and the possibility of an attack,” she stated.
Ms. Bounds noted that by the beginning of the 20th century, the grounds of the sand-bottomed fort shaded by a huge silt cotton tree were used as a play area by children from the adjacent school. She said older Caymanians remember that two large cannons and a thick chain were there, too.
During World War II, six lookout posts were set up at strategic locations in Grand Cayman to spot hostile ships, including German submarines. Around 1943, a lookout hut was constructed in the branches of the silk cotton tree at the fort. Combined, the lookouts offered views of the entire coastline, and were manned 24 hours a day with four men at each post.
Today, visitors can see a replica of a lookout post at this unique portal to Cayman’s past.
For more information on Fort George and other National Trust sites, visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky.