It was Mr. Saiid Greene, the managing director of the Antigua Pier Group, who first made the disclosure that the government was looking into expanding our tourism product by restoring the ruins at Fort Barrington and Betty’s Hope Estate and adding shops, restaurants, bars and other visitor-friendly amenities. To that we say, “Hooray!” This is an idea whose time has come – restoring and monetising our heritage.
Of course, we are calling on Mr. Greene to not only talk a good show, but deliver on a most worthy effort. This ought not to be another tease, the likes of which we have grown so accustomed to here in our fair state. This could be one of his most enduring and consequential contributions to restoring Antigua and Barbuda to the top of the tourism heap in the Caribbean. This could be his legacy accomplishment. We here at NEWSCO will be supporting the effort in every possible way.
But it ought not to be only for the tourists. We need to take a bit more pride in our heritage and our city and country for its own sake (just because it is ours) and for our own enrichment. Ours is undoubtedly a beautiful country. The hundreds of sugar mills, towers, quaint and lovely buildings in St. John’s are a testament, not only to the resilience and strength of our ancestors, but the tasteful manner in which they toiled to construct our edifices. In St. John’s, we have a host of charming and historic buildings that can be restored to their original beauty. Actually, it was quite heartening to hear Mr. Greene wax nostalgic when recalling his private excursions to map the many colonial-era structures around our city that have now fallen into a state of disrepair. Indeed, he got quite animated when talking about the grand old building on Long Street just east of Francis Nunes Hardware. (Which now appears to be up for sale . . . Gasp!) He is clearly an old soul with an eye for real beauty; a sensitivity to – and understanding of – the true meaning and value of our historic buildings and structures. We salute him.
We also suggest that our sugar mills ought to be restored and tagged with a plaque listing their names and other important historical information. Plus, in addition to Fort Barrington and Betty’s Hope, we strongly suggest that Fort James be restored to her original grandeur. Fort James is an impressive historical site and a national treasure. Its current dilapidated condition is a shame; a rather poor reflection on us and our stewardship of our history. We also suggest that the remaining colonial-era stores and buildings in and around St. John’s be designated as national landmarks to be preserved in perpetuity. That is, they cannot be demolished or altered in any way, especially on the exterior. This is done in many countries around the world where power is vested in a Landmarks Commission or a Historical Preservation Society or a National Conservancy or some other such body to oversee their historical treasures.
Of course, here in Antigua and Barbuda, we have had incarnations of just such bodies. We are not sure how effective they were in saving many of our lovely old buildings from being bulldozed to make way for some of the ‘gawd-awful’ modern structures that we see around St. John’s. It is not an exaggeration to say that very few of our modern buildings have added anything by way of aesthetic appeal to our once-beautiful city. They are purely utilitarian. They are, for the most part, eyesores!
This writer can recall the Antigua Historical Society with outstanding Antiguans like Attorney John Fuller, Dr. Ivor Heath, Agnes Meeker, Edward T. Henry and our very own Winston Derrick, who fought valiantly for the preservation of our historical gems. For example, legend has it that the iconic John Fuller threatened to stand in front of a bulldozer that was about to raze the old Treasury building at the bottom of High Street. That was a lovely structure that once housed the Antigua Grammar School in its infancy; and, later, the Treasury downstairs and the Public Library upstairs. It was severely damaged in the great earthquake of 1974 and subsequently abandoned. Its destruction was as sure a sign as any that we were losing our soul and our way.
But there is hope yet, what with Saiid Greene’s vision for our future that will not forsake its past; a future that can co-exist with our heritage and history. Here’s hoping that the town planners, the Development Control Authority, our museum curator Michelle Henry, the national archivists, civic bodies, conservationists and other interested parties can come together in a meeting of the minds to devise a more aesthetically-pleasing St. John’s. Here’s hoping that we can find the will and way to make the Fort Barrington and Betty’s Hope visions a reality – not forgetting our sugar mills and Fort James, among others. In that regard, we offer the painstaking restoration work being done at the Governor General’s residence as an example of a will and a way. We salute His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams and Lady Williams for their foresight (and hindsight) in restoring this gem from our past. And to think that there were some who wanted to bulldoze that historically significant and beautiful property? Sigh!