SAVANNAH -- The Cayman Islands has a new attraction -- and it is very old.

Pedro St. James National Historic Site sprawls over seven acres atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Caribbean. After seven years and a $7.5 million transformation, the site opened as the country's first national landmark, its birthplace of democracy.

Pedro St. James National Historic Site Thomas Jefferson, minister of tourism, said that the site "is the Caymanian equivalent to Independence Hall in the U.S. It will serve as a model for future heritage attractions here."

Pedro Castle, centerpiece of the site, is an historically accurate restoration of a three-story, early 19th century West Indian great house and estate.

It was originally the home of William Eden, a cotton plantation owner on Savannah's Pedro bluff on Grand Cayman's south coast.

Eden called his home St. James; research shows that it was built of native rock around 1780 using slave labor.

St. James was the only house on Grand Cayman to survive the hurricane of 1785.

On Dec. 5, 1831, leaders of the British-owned colony gathered at St. James to sign a document outlining the parliamentary system still in place today.

In May 1835 the freedom of slaves was declared on the great house steps.

Recognizing the site's historic importance, the Cayman government bought the property in November 1991 to develop it as the country's first national landmark and heritage tourism attraction.

Groundbreaking took place in May 1995.

The restoration of the great house, which represents the period between 1820 and 1840, was completed last January. Details reflect authentic building techniques of Caribbean great houses, from rough-hewn timber beams and wooden pegs to mahogany floors, wooden ceilings, stone walls and louvered shutters. A working oven and outdoor kitchen re-create the out buildings on the original estate. The grounds contain traditional medicinal gardens, livestock and tropical plants.

The second phase was the $1.5 million Visitors Centre which includes a multimedia theater offering 200 years of Cayman history in a 20-minute video.

Visitors can take self-guided tours of the great house and grounds, although experienced guides in period costumes are also available. The site is open daily; admission is $6.

Pedro St. James Historic Site
Phone: (345) 947-3329
Web: www.pedrostjames.ky

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