SAVANNAH, Cayman Islands -- A key player in the Cayman Islands' 500th anniversary celebrations in 2003 will be an old stone structure with a colorful past.

The Pedro St. James building definitely merits a visit. More than 30,000 visitors thought so last year, ranking it as one of the top attractions in the Cayman Islands.

A man named Thomas Hubbell owned the site in the 1960s. After altering it to resemble a castle, he claimed it was once a pirates' lair and named it Pedro St. James Castle.

Originally built in 1780 as a residence on Grand Cayman's south coast -- about 30 minutes from George Town -- Pedro St. James is the oldest building on the island and the lone survivor of the hurricane of 1785.

Other violent storms, fires and tragedies played out within its walls over the next 200 years. So, too, did events that shaped the Cayman Islands' history.

Historians recount that a group of citizens gathered in the formal dining room of Pedro St. James on Dec. 5, 1831, to discuss holding the first elections on the island.

The historic wooden cook house served as the original kitchen at Pedro St. James, built in 1780. These men wasted no time -- five days later the first Legislative Assembly for the Cayman Islands was elected.

In 1835, a proclamation abolishing slavery was read from the Palladian staircase of Pedro St. James.

Photographs on display in the house and in the Cayman Islands National Museum in George Town depict the house as a popular spot for political functions for years after that reading.

Tragedy struck in 1877 when Mary Jane Eden, the daughter of Englishman William Eden, who constructed the building, was hit by lightning outside the home. The house was abandoned after Mary Jane was killed and remained empty for 100-plus years, falling into a state of disrepair.

New life was breathed into the structure in 1991, when the government purchased it as a historical site and began restorations. The restored Pedro St. James National Historic Site opened to the public in 1998.

Today's visitors will see period furniture made from mahogany, cedar and white pine.

One room serves as a small theater, featuring a 30-minute multimedia show that tells the story of the attraction.

Next to the building is a visitors' center with a small restaurant.

For more information...

Pedro St. James
Phone: (345) 947-3329
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $6; kids under age 12, $4

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