Have you ever wondered how your street, lane, avenue, drive, boulevard, close or circle got its name?
Road names in the Cayman Islands offer an insight into the islands’ past, featuring the names of some historically or politically important figures, while other names can leave passersby positively baffled.
Some roads have obvious literary connotations, such as Bronte Way, Dickens Street, Chaucer Drive, Kipling Street and Longfellow Circle, while others carry more ordinary names, such as Nancy Street, Bernard Avenue, Gregory Street and Carmen Boulevard. Then there are such scented names as Lavender Way, Cinnamon Link and Frangipani Drive.
Cayman also has its fair share of downright quirky names, like Easy Street, Bambi Close, Off the Beaten Path Road, Up The Hill Road and Snooze Lane.
In this, the first of an occasional series, the Cayman Compass is exploring the background of some of the Cayman Islands’ street names.
Many of the local roads are named after past governors or administrators of the islands. One such street is Bodden Town’s Cumber Avenue, which is named after Sir John Alfred Cumber, who served as administrator (a precursor to the governor role) between 1964 and 1968.
Cumber Avenue is a colorful little valley with three roads leading off it – Magpie Close, Netty Levy Court and Daffodil Street. All those roads are steeped in history, local culture and family connections.
Years ago, Cumber Avenue was no more than a bicycle track overgrown with lion tongue bush. It was originally called “Well Path” because of its fresh water source. It was also known as “Hog Sh*t Lane” as everyone living on the lane had a pig running around their yard, according to Freddie Watler, a 75-year-old resident of Lower Valley.
Located in the heart of central Bodden Town, Cumber Avenue is an iconic part of the town. Geographically speaking, it sits in a basin, which causes flooding problems in rainy season, and it contains a close-knit community.
Netty Levy’s 250-year-old home, which is in the process of being renovated following a fire, is still visible on Netty Levy Court, the street named after her. Her son Cedric at age 93 still lives in a yard across from Magpie Close.
Mary Antoinette Levy, known as Netty, lived to be 105. She was an active member in the United Church, a midwife and the town’s “house chatter” or storyteller. At age 9, she was responsible for going into the district of Bodden Town and returning to discreetly share the community news with the Redpath family who lived in the Bodden Town Mission House.
Generations remember her zeal in agitating for government to create the public road now known as Cumber Avenue. She approached Administrator Cumber and appealed to him to build the road so that cars could access the area in case someone got sick. She asked the road to be named after him.
Netty Levy’s family continue to reside in the area. Her granddaughter Twyla Vargas, a local artisan, house chatter and author of Caymanian stories, has taken up where her granny left off.
(In full disclosure, the author of this article is also a granddaughter of Netty Levy.)
One might assume that nearby Daffodil Street is named after a proliferation of daffodils in the area, but that is not the case, according to a spokeswoman at the Cayman Islands Street Addressing office, who noted that the name was chosen randomly.
Daffodil Street had two of the best bakers in the community. Livingston Terry’s and Henry Watson’s bakeries were a staple in the Cumber Avenue community for decades.
Mr. Terry was known for his breads baked in an old drum packed tight with rocks and dirt to trap the heat. The bread shop was a little wooden shack set on ironwood posts right next to a huge naseberry tree on the corner of Cumber Avenue and Daffodil Street. Mr. Terry’s shop is long gone, as is Mr. Terry, but the naseberry tree, which was a major fruit source for those in the neighborhood, continues to bear fruit to this day.
“Mr. Terry made the sweetest and prettiest looking bread in the community,” recalled Freddie Watler. “The sweat would roll off his brow and into the dough mixture … under his fingernails were black with red mold dirt after he had been planting cassava sticks in the land all day … they had to eat it … it was all they had those days.”
Henry Watson’s “bullas” were the best after he borrowed the recipe from his Jamaican wife Ms. Denton. He closely guarded the recipe and refused to let anyone see it. He only made up his bulla recipe in the early hours of the morning with the windows tightly closed, when he knew the neighbors were asleep.
Mr. Watson’s partly demolished bakery is still visible on Daffodil Street.
Years ago, a stroll down “Ginny Wood Lane,” which was later renamed Magpie Close, would have given anyone a scare. Rocks from “hell,” prickle bush and flickering shadows had residents avoiding this area after dark.
“Duppies [ghosts] did come out and shake your hand,” said Ulalee Frederick, 89. The Magpie Close resident is adamant that duppies waited around the prickle bush. She said one brought a pair of red shoes and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk.
Magpie Close was also a favorite gathering place for men to drink and hang out. The area was home to the late Jim “Kate” Wood, a town character, who lost an arm around the 1950s while using dynamite to blow up a shoal of fish. His friends called him “the one-arm swordsman” because of the strength in his remaining arm.
Any readers who are interested in finding out about the background of their street names are invited to submit suggestions to the Compass to include in this series. Email [email protected]