Trust moves historic house to Bodden Town

It may have taken the Ministry of Culture and the National Trust for the Cayman Islands nine hours on Sunday to secure a piece of Cayman history, but it was a proud moment for all involved.

Some had never seen the likes of what they saw Sunday morning: An ‘old time’ Cayman wattle-and-daub house built in the early 1800s, loaded onto a trailer,  and escorted by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and Caribbean Utilities Company, travelling the streets of Cayman all the way from George Town to Bodden Town.

After four hours and almost 10 miles on the road on Sunday, the historic house was given a permanent home by the Bodden Town Mission House.

The ministry and the National Trust, with the assistance of the police, CUC, Signature Property Management and Green Iguana Construction brought the wattle-and-daub Clayton Nixon home from a plot of land across from the Citrus Grove building on Goring Avenue in George Town, after it was donated by developer NCB, which had previously bought the property.

The mammoth exercise began at 4am with the preparing of the house to go on the road, with the actual trip put off to 9am to be able to negotiate the roads in the light of day.

The slow-moving procession proved an unusual sight for onlookers but also caused a few grumbles from drivers stuck behind the convoy, escorted by the police and CUC crews, who walked alongside the house lifting electrical wires and chopping overhanging bush to clear the way.

The Clayton House on the move from Goring Avenue. – Photo: Stuart Wilson

If all goes according to plan, the house will be “preserved and perhaps used as a coffee house for future generations”, explained Nancy Barnard, chief officer in the culture ministry.
“It really was a group effort to make it all happen,” she added.

Barnard also credited the determination of returning college student Ally McCrae who worked for NCB at the time the house was secured for the National Trust.

“She was the one who bothered to touch bases with all the cultural organisations to save the old house”, Barnard said, also thanking NCB “because they did care and not just have it knocked down”. Barnard added that it cost $39,000 to move the former slave family home to Bodden Town.

“We have to salvage our heritage. Development and culture and heritage can go hand in hand; we just need to look out for each other,” Barnard said. The next steps will be to enlist students from various schools to assist in preserving the house, which will require additional electrical, construction and plumbing work.

Caribbean Utilities linesmen remove electrical wire out of the way. – Photo: Jewel Levy

National Trust chairman Andrew Gibb said the project was a collaboration of many parties and the ministry and Trust working to save a national icon – a traditional Caymanian house.

“It was not just rescuing but repurposing it as an artifact for future generations to enjoy,” he said.

Police Inspector Ian Yearwood acknowledged the move caused inconvenience for some motorists, but said police kept the traffic flowing. He said that there were no incidents reported as a result of the move, and noted, “we had to go slowly because we had two crews from CUC clearing lines as we went by”.

National Trust historic programmes manager Stuart Wilson said they had been preparing the house for its trip for quite some time.

Ironwood stilts on the large house had to be cut from under the structure and steel beams had to be put in for stability. In addition, Green Iguana Construction strapped and covered the house with plywood for protection, and it was then hoisted by crane onto a trailer and hitched to a truck, all before setting out on the road Sunday morning.

Moving company Signature set the old house rolling off-site shortly after 9am. The police escort kept the procession travelling from between 5mph and 15mph, as it led the way from Goring Avenue to the four-way stop by Cayman Islands Hospital, down Smith Road, on to Bobby Thompson Way, to Linford Pierson Highway, on to Shamrock Road, then Spotts Newlands Road, turning into Condor Road by the Bodden Town Primary School, then to Anton Bodden Drive, before making its way through the carpark of the Harry McCoy Snr. Park and onto the grounds of the Mission House.

The trip was interrupted numerous times as CUC workers walking alongside cleared electrical wires and bush.

The Clayton House arrives at its new home next door to the Bodden Town MIssion House. – Photo: Jewel Levy

The house finally arrived at the new site after 1pm.

“It has been quite an experience with quite a few man hours involved,” said Wilson, happy that the house had arrived without incident.

At the Mission House site, Wilson said they had prepared a special platform for the crane before hoisting the house onto the property. After discussing the best position for the house the building was lowered by the crane. The ironwood posts removed for transport were replaced beneath the house.

Built in the early 1800s, the now-vacant structure was named for a previous owner and thought to have been constructed by his grandfather. According to National Trust records, the house was possibly one of the first Cayman homes owned by a former slave.

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