Black River Heritage Walking Tour
66 High Street Black River Saint Elizabeth Parish Jamaica
Start: Invercauld Guest House, High Street
Finish: Black River Safari Tour Centre
Distance: 1 km/30 mins (exclusive of optional river tour, which lasts 1 hr.)
1. INVERCAULD GREAT HOUSE
Built in 1894 by Patrick Leyden, member of a famous British family, Invercauld (formerly Invercall) is the typical 19th century wealthy merchant’s home. Its graceful design is characteristically Georgian, with gabled roofs, bay windows, valances and decorative fretwork. Leyden reportedly imported most of the materials used in the construction from Europe and North America. Recently renovated, Invercauld is a guesthouse with 52 air-conditioned rooms and suites and a restaurant.
Directions: Leaving Invercauld, begin to walk eastward along High Street. Pass the Black River Library and the ruins of a building that once housed a museum, then look for Black River’s majestic courthouse
2. THE COURTHOUSE
This imposing building overlooking the turquoise bay is the hub of activity in Black River, housing both the Legal Court and the Parish Council Offices. A magnificent Georgian structure, it has an impressive façade with attractive white columns. Although the exact date of its construction is unknown, the courthouse is believed to have been built in the early 20th century. In the past, it has served as the Town Hall, and as a stage for plays, concerts, political meetings, fairs and dances. The two gigantic ficus trees on the courthouse compound are national monuments.
Directions: Near the courthouse is the:
3. MAGDALA HOUSE
Stop Description: An excellent example of Victorian architecture adapted to a tropical climate, Magdala House displays a concrete foundation, wooden structure and window coolers. Originally owned by Tom Leyden, one of the richest men in 19th century Jamaica, the house now belongs to the Roman Catholic Church and serves as a home for abandoned children.
4. RESTORED HOUSES
These include the offices of the parish council and the reputed former home of the Griffith family, the first family in Jamaica to own a motorcar. Both buildings may date from the 19th century.
Directions: With the sea to your right, continue eastwards, until you arrive at 44 High Street, directly opposite the remains of a beached ship.
5. WATERLOO GUEST HOUSE
Formerly owned by John Leyden, this elegant townhouse faces Black River’s waterfront. In 1893, Waterloo became the first building in Jamaica to be illuminated by electricity. It is said that Leyden, a racehorse breeder, wired the house to an electricity plant at “York Terrace” (now called School Street) because he wanted to air-condition his stables. Generously, Leyden decided to supply the whole town with electricity, making Black River the envy of the island. A few years later, however, the Leyden family ran out of money and closed the electricity plant, pitching Black River into darkness once more. The town went without electricity until 1936. Today, Waterloo has been restored as a guesthouse, and is a shining example of Black River’s storied past.
Directions: After visiting Waterloo, proceed eastward, crossing School Street, to the Parish Church.
6. ST ELIZABETH PARISH CHURCH
Erected in approximately 1837 (on the site of a previous chapel dating back to the 1700s), this graceful yellow brick building is a mixture of classical and gothic architectural styles. Topped with battlements and corner pinnacles, the tower boasts quoins and other intricate details. Inside the church are mural tablets to Messrs Munro and Dickenson, the benefactors of two of Jamaica’s most recognized boarding schools, Munro College and Hampton School for Girls.
Directions: Having explored the church and its grounds, walk in an easterly direction along High Street, crossing North Street, to the heart of the town. There you will see many old buildings being used for commercial and retail purposes. After the intersection with Brigade Street you will see the Hendricks and Co. Building to your left, immediately before an old iron bridge over Black River.
7. THE HENDRICKS AND CO. BUILDING
Believed to have been built over 100 years ago, this charming building has belonged to the Hendricks family since William Hendricks built it in the 1900s. At that time, it housed a general store that stocked household and hardware items. Outside the Hendricks and Co. Building, a cannon protrudes from the asphalt street, a relic of the town’s heyday, when a small fort and several guns protected the town’s riches. Back then, old cannons were often used as “hitching posts” for horses.
Directions: From the Hendricks and Co. Building, you may cross the river and hire a boat to take you on a tour. Stop for a moment on the bridge and look out for visiting crocodiles swimming in the murky water or sunning themselves on the banks. The Black River area is the largest crocodile habitat in Jamaica, with over 300 rare and endangered crocs living in the surrounding mangroves.
8. THE BLACK RIVER
Several boat companies offer tours along Jamaica’s largest, and third longest, river – the Black River. Famous for its rare flora and fauna, including mangroves and American crocodiles, the river’s name is said to derive from the large deposits of peat under the water that give it a dark colour.