Some Bodden Town residents are expressing concern about the fate of the district’s historic Mission House, suggesting that Cayman heritage and culture could be showcased by having the local attraction open on a more regular basis.
In 2015, the National Trust, the nonprofit organization that manages the property which houses centuries of history, closed the building because of a lack of staff able to work there on a full-time basis. They then offered locals and visitors the opportunity to book tours by appointment.
“Guided tours of the Mission House are available Monday through Friday, by appointment only. The tours currently cost $8 for adults and $4 for children, and we require a minimum group of 6 people per tour. Additional days and private tours may also be available on request,” an email from National Trust Historic Programmes Manager Richard Mileham states.
Residents of nearby Cumber Avenue and Gun Square Twyla Vargas and Pedro Watler say tours of the historic home are few and far apart and most times the building is closed to those who just happen to turn up on a given day. They claim this is unacceptable because the Mission House can be used for so many things, and suggest the National Trust should make the building and grounds more available to the people of Bodden Town.
In an email to the Cayman Compass, Mr. Mileham said that since September 2016, tours have been given to around 130 people, some of which formed part of the Bodden Town Heritage Day activities in November.
“We also have future confirmed bookings for school groups,” he said.
While there may be tours going on, the property does appear to be in need a little sprucing up. In front of the Mission House, the plants are dry and wilting, and paint is peeling from some parts of the building. Most times, the only life around is just the squawk of chickens and rustling of iguanas in the tree tops, the residents claim.
Ms. Vargas suggests National Trust finds retirees or others in the district who would be willing to assist in the gift shop for a small salary. This keeper would also be able to give information on the district’s cultural history, and sell crafts and other artworks on a daily basis.
Mr. Watler, a relative of the family who donated the home to the Trust, said busloads of tourists and individuals on foot arrive at the site every day, but it is always closed.
“They usually want to find out what times the house is open for viewing. When I tell them they have to make an appointment, most of them said they were just passing through the area and thought it [would be] a good place to visit because it was on the Cayman map,” said Mr. Watler.
The Trust says it is working to change that.
“The Trust is still very committed to making the house available for tours. In fact, we have recently recorded an audio version of the tour which will not only make the process for running tours more straightforward, but we hope that it will also appeal to a wider audience,” said Mr. Mileham.
“We are hoping to launch these audio tours very soon and would look to advertise this accordingly,” he added.
Mr. Mileham confirmed the Trust has put out a call for volunteers to assist with tours and they have received interest from a nearby resident.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree a suitable time to sufficiently train that volunteer in how to run a guided tour of the house. However, with the forthcoming launch of the audio tour, it is hoped that this training wouldn’t be necessary.
“Also, once the audio tours have been launched we would welcome volunteers to assist us with opening the house and meeting visitors,” he said.
The new tours of the house will cost $10 for adults and $5 for children, he said.
Mr. Mileham said the Trust would be delighted to sell local crafts in the gift shop, and also at its Nature Store at Dart Park in South Sound.
“I have not been made aware of any particular items that people would like us to sell, but we welcome suggestions,” he said.
Mission House history
According to the National Trust, the Bodden Town Mission House site was used by early settlers for its abundant supply of water in the 1700s. In the 1800s, it became known as the Mission House to early missionaries, teachers and families who contributed to establishing the Presbyterian ministry and school in Bodden Town. Before being turned over to the National Trust, the house was home to the late Emile Watler. His daughter Veleen and her family were the last people to live in the home.
The two-story house was rebuilt after being reduced to rubble in Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The Trust’s Historic Committee collected and preserved original rafters, purlins and ironwood posts.
Rooms inside the Mission House showcase Cayman’s history by re-creating the living situations of the three families known to have owned the home. The site also houses a small resource room organized by the Cayman National Archive, and features a display from the Cayman National Museum. It also has a store selling toys, books, crafts and refreshments.
Outside, Cayman’s heritage is also reflected in the landscaped grounds with indigenous plants and trees and a traditional sand garden.