BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large, South/Central Bureau email@example.com
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — New River, located just north of this south-central town, on or around the Black River Upper Morass, is perhaps best known for its flooding episodes.
However, the community's leaders, through the New River District Development Committee, are now moving to make it a prized heritage tourism site.
The initiative is based on irrefutable evidence that New River, formerly known as Carmel, has a rich and colourful history dating back to the 1750s featuring an estate run by slave labour and operated by European Moravian missionaries.
A Jamaica Observer Central team which visited New River, recently, was shown a more than 200-year-old cemetery, which has survived considerable neglect and wear and tear with tombs and inscriptions reasonably intact.
Much of the research has been done by the secretary of the development committee, Dr Abrilene Scott, a lecturer at Bethlehem Moravian College in Malvern, as well as her husband, long-standing New River resident and businessman David Scott.
Aided by Moravian researcher Scharlie Dobson, who did considerable research in New River in the 1950s, and older residents, the development committee is now seeking to identify the foundations of old buildings, including one which historians say was among the biggest in Jamaica in the 18th century.
As part of the drive towards achieving heritage tourism site status, the development committee has made a presentation as well as a formal proposal to the Tony Freckleton-led South Coast Resort Board.
"We were very well received," said Dr Scott.
She told the Observer Central that a letter has come from the headquarters of the Moravian Church "offering to partner with us" in the restoration project.
Scott and the community leadership are hopeful that the German Embassy will also come on board, since historical records show that German missionaries were the first Europeans to start the settlement at Carmel, now New River, as part of a drive to "christianise" slaves.
The missionaries were allocated 700 acres of land, 300 acres of which was farmland while the remaining 400 acres was described as swamp and morass. The settlement was abandoned in the 1820s, apparently partly because of the Moravian Church's growing embarrassment at the time, that it had effectively participated in the evil and dehumanising system of slavery.
Scott is hoping for restoration of the historic cemetery and rebuilding of the historical settlement so that "visitors here and abroad will be able to come and see..."
Member of Parliament for North East St Elizabeth Raymond Pryce, who has been a prime mover behind the initiative, sees New River becoming a part of a package tour in the area.
Pryce believes that with the help of agencies such as Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and the Tourism Enhancement Fund, New River could be linked to attractions such as Appleton Tours, the zoo in Burnt Savannah and sites now being developed in Braes River and Goshen, including the Goshen Caves.
"I am very enthused about this," he told the Observer Central.
President of the New River Development Committee Kingsley Clarke, who has spent many years advocating road and infrastructural improvement and flood mitigation programmes for New River, believes heritage site development could provide real economic and social benefits.
"If, as we envision it, this community can become a part of the tourism landscape, then we would be better able to press for better roads and improved drainage," said Clarke.
"We could develop serious cottage industries including the revival of straw making, a boost of the fish and bammy business, which is already in place, and farmers would be better able to sell their produce. Any way you look at it, this would be a big plus for us," he continued.