Let us have a 'Kingston Day'


Thursday, June 22, 2017

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Two weeks ago was the 325th anniversary of the 1692 earthquake in Port Royal, which also affected other parts of the island. The Port Royal residents sailed across from Port Royal (then an island) to that area known as Hog Crawle on 530 acres of the Liguanea Plain (now Kingston). The word “liguanea” is the Taino word for iguana, the large lizard that was a common sight in Jamaica until the mongoose was imported.

The governor declared the establishment of Kingston within days of the earthquake. Some historians give the birth date of Kingston as June 24 while others give it as a date in July. I would work with the June 24 date until the July enthusiasts give sound reasons for that date.

And if we were to have a Kingston Day as I am suggesting, I would work with either June 24 or the last Monday or Friday of June. But I do not advocate that it should be a public holiday. On that day, Kingston should become a major tourist stop. Can we do that as of next year since it is too late to do for this year?

In the 1660s, William Beeston bought 330 acres called Hog Crawle. This was part of the 530 acres of land that was originally declared as Kingston. Beeston returned to Jamaica in 1693 and declared the sale illegal. But he sold lots and made great profits on his 330 acres.

Eventually there was a town plan and the original four streets were drawn up. Later, the area of Kingston extended to Harbour Head (now Harbour View). Incidentally, only a part of one street of the Harbour View housing scheme (completed in 1960) is in Kingston. The rest is in St Andrew.

Kingston evolved to the commercial capital of Jamaica while Spanish Town remained the administrative capital. Around this time a Chamber of Commerce was founded, one of the first in the world.

The real reason for Kingston becoming the capital in 1872 was the harbour, which is said to be the seventh largest natural harbour in the world. Today the northern boundaries of Kingston going from east to west are part of Harbour Drive in Harbour View, an imaginary line at the top of Wareika Hill to just south of Jarrett Lane above Norman Gardens, then along Langston Road, north of Franklin Town, Woodford Avenue and the northern end of Allman Town.

From there going westward to Torrington Bridge, the border continues westward and turn south to the east of Trench Town (which is in St Andrew). Then it goes south to just east of St Andrew Technical High School (which again is in St Andrew). North of Kingston is St Andrew to its borders.

John Wolmer, the founder of Wolmer's Boys' and Wolmer's Girls' schools (the preparatory school came more than two centuries later), left instructions in his will for a school to be situated in Kingston. So when Wolmer's moved from downtown Kingston to its present location, the border of Kingston was changed to the fence line between both Wolmer's high schools and Mico Teacher's College (now a branch of the University of the West Indies).

Incidentally, what is today the location of Wolmer's Boys' School was the location of the Great Exhibition in 1791. Because of the border change to accommodate John Wolmer's will, the exhibition was held in Kingston. The exhibition was the first attempt to sell Jamaica as a tourist destination with items to trade such as lumber and rum.

It was at the Great Exhibition that the Lebanese traders came to sell their wares, many of whom settled in Jamaica. Names like Issa, Hanna, Azan, Azar, Khouri, Fakhouri and Seaga come to mind. These Lebanese merchants would add to the growing merchant community of Jamaica.

In 1923 the parish councils of Kingston and St Andrew were amalgamated. A decision in the late 1950s to number the post offices throughout Kingston and St Andrew from Kingston 1 (Port Royal) and eventually by the 1970s to Kingston 20 (Duhaney Park) has confused many residents as to where Kingston ends and where St Andrew begins.

The original affluent residential area of Jamaica, Bournemouth Gardens is located in eastern Kingston. In other countries, tours are made of what they call their 'colonial homes'. It might be a good idea to do this in Jamaica also. In the west of Kingston there exists the well-known Tivoli Gardens. Kingston also has the largest Church building in Jamaica, Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic) Cathedral on North Street in Kingston.

Kingston has the National Library of Jamaica (originally West Indies Reference Library) and is located at the Institute of Jamaica. Kingston is also the seat of the International Seabed Authority. The late Dudley Thompson negotiated it during his time as minister of foreign affairs in the 1970s. This motivated the Government in the 1980s to get ahead with plans to build the Jamaica Conference Centre.

More importantly Kingston has the seat of Parliament, Gordon House. This in itself has an important history. When the decision was made to remove the seat of Parliament from Headquarters House, Gordon House was built as the temporary seat of Parliament. It was to move to another location and the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Council was to eventually relocate there.

Indeed, there were plans to build a five-storey building in the Old Wolmer's yard at the corner of East Queen Street and East parade to house the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation Offices It was also to be the Town Hall for Kingston and St Andrew. That plan was shelved and replaced by the temporary Parliament building plan.

To date, Gordon House is still where it is and a new Parliament building is still talk. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, born in 1972, should have “born come see” a proper Parliament building. Had the Government gone ahead with the plans to build a town hall at Old Wolmer's, at least there would have been a town hall there for more than 50 years.

There is the flour mill and the cement factory at Rockfort. All of this is more than enough to expand tourism into Kingston.


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