Group Seeks to Preserve Jamaica's Heritage

By Donald Callum

PORT ANTONIO, Jamaica -- The Portland Heritage Foundation, a coalition of business people and residents here, is working to preserve the area's historical heritage.

According to Earl Levy, a member of the foundation's board and owner of the Trident Villas and Castle resort, the group's aims are "the preservation and renovation of the existing historical and traditional structures that remain on the Titchfield peninsula, in particular, and in greater Port Antonio, in general." Levy said the group intends to promote Port Antonio as an alternative tourist destination to the "Big Two" of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

The foundation consists of more than 35 people who represent a spectrum of the population of the Parish of Portland, where Port Antonio is situated. Among them are hoteliers, residents, business people, educators, journalists, artists and politicians from both of Jamaica's main political parties.

Located on the Titchfield peninsula are 40 homes and the 250-year-old Fort George, which has 10-foot-thick walls, spinning turrets for cannons, a massive steel-and-brick barracks and a Georgian powder house. "We would like to see a Jamaican 'Williamsburg' here in Port Antonio where you can see some of the past preserved for future generations to enjoy," Levy said.

The fort is the cornerstone of the foundation's efforts. Guarded by a trust left by the previous owners, it is basically intact and houses the Titchfield School. The fort is to be declared a National Heritage Trust site.

All buildings on the Titchfield peninsula are eligible for consideration for renovation, although the emphasis at first will be on those owned by the Jamaican government and the Titchfield Trust. The trust, which owns at least 15 of these properties, uses income generated by these properties to support the Titchfield School.

The Port Antonio Courthouse, located at the foot of the peninsula, already is a National Heritage Trust site as is the DeMontevin Lodge, a 100-year-old brick hotel and restaurant located on the peninsula. Similar structures, built in Georgian, Jamaican vernacular, Victorian and Caribbean "gingerbread" styles, have continued to disappear from the Jamaican landscape, both here and elsewhere on the island.

The long-term goal of the preservation project is to provide much-needed employment in the area by boosting the sagging local tourist industry, Levy said. Although local donors have raised money for the preservation of several sites, the trust is seeking funding from a variety of sources.

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