Cayman Brac boasts a number of interesting historic buildings, among them the Spellman McLaughlin home, a traditional house located at the Creek that has been lovingly maintained and restored.
Providing an example of traditional architecture, the home is a popular stop for tourists and one of the destinations on the Brac YMCA culture camp’s itinerary this summer.
“Last year was the first time we did the tour of the home with the Cayman Traditional Arts heritage arts program, but [the owners] are very accommodating when their schedule allows them to be,” said Simone Scott, who coordinates the program on the Brac.
According to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the home was built by Capt. Spellman McLaughlin between 1926 and 1930. Spellman McLaughlin arrived in Cayman Brac from East End in Grand Cayman with his family when he was 16 years old. He grew up and married there and began building this house to his own design.
The house has three gable ends, and each gable section is pitched individually, rising above the verandah that surrounds the house, giving the illusion that the house has two stories.
The house is constructed of timber, mostly pine, imported from Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida. While pre-cut lengths of imported lumber would normally be supplied, Mr. McLaughlin had his planks cut to size on site. Although he had help with the construction, he oversaw every detail himself.
“This meant that the building work would have been interrupted whenever he went off to sea, which he had to do to earn his living,” notes the Trust.
Standing on log posts sunk into the ground, the wood house is still in excellent condition in spite of the exposure to sun, wind and salt. Very few nails (which would rust) were used and the roof was covered with cedar shingles, which remain today in good condition underneath the more durable zinc roofing.
The house has eight exterior rooms built around a central dining room. Each of these rooms has windows and a door to the verandah, which means that the house is light and airy, a great benefit in the days before air conditioning.
The rooms facing northwest and the central dining room were designed to be the formal rooms and have elaborate ceilings, but the rooms on the southeastern facade, which were likely to be the hottest, did not have ceilings so that the hot air could rise into the roof space, keeping the rooms as cool as possible.
When the house was built, the kitchen would have been in a separate building to keep the heat of cooking away from the house and to restrict the danger of fire.
In the great hurricane of 1932, also known as the “Cuba Hurricane,” 130 local people found shelter inside the house. According to a 2012 National Hurricane Centre analysis, the hurricane that hit the Brac with full force on Nov. 8 and 9 is believed to have been a Category 5 storm.
The Trust notes that all but nine of the houses on the Brac were destroyed or severely damaged in the hurricane.
Many people were swept away with their homes.
One survivor, Phyllis Jackson, recalled: “We packed in to this house. I was in one room, the west room, that time the water was flooding in to the house. We were bailing it, you understand, trying to bail it out; it came up to knee deep in the apartment we was in, so … a friend was along with me … so I said to him, ‘What a big cloud.’ He said ‘No, that’s no cloud, that’s a tear of sea, [a tidal wave]’ … and all I know was, when the door burst open and [the water] took everything to the back of the house.”
Amazingly, the house survived and even the windows held fast. A boulder crashed through the front door, letting the water in, but did no further damage.
“In the days that followed, the house became a centre for aid in the community. Food was scarce and emergency supplies such as cornmeal, flour and sugar, had to be shipped in from Jamaica. This had to be rationed and it was to this house that folk came for their share,” the Trust notes.
In more recent times, the Compass reported that once again proving its resilience, the house withstood Category 4 Hurricane Paloma on Nov. 5, 2008, but suffered extensive damage, especially to its roof.
The house was inhabited by the McLaughlin family until it was sold in 2011.
The owners continue to add to and beautify the property.