Montego Bay Heritage Tour
Dome Street, Montego Bay, Saint James Parish, Jamaica, North American/a
Once called el Golfo de Buen Tiempo (Fair Weather Gulf), and La Bahia Manteca (Lard Bay), Montego Bay’s rich history includes the stories of Spanish conquistadors, grand sugar plantations and infamous slave rebellions, namely the Sam Sharpe Rebellion of 1831. Today, Montego Bay is Jamaica’s second largest city and the island’s most popular tourist region. In spite of its development, the city’s colourful past is still alive in the relics that stand throughout the town.
Start: The Dome, at the intersection of Dome and Creek Streets.
Finish: Sam Sharpe Square
Tips: At the intersection of Dome and Creek Streets, you’ll spot an odd dome-shaped structure.
1. THE DOME
Built in 1837, this brick edifice guarded the issue of the creek that supplied much of Montego Bay’s water. The “Keeper of the Creek”, the person responsible for managing the city’s water supply, resided in the dome until the river’s course shifted in the late 19th century. With continued road construction around the Dome, parts of it eventually became covered.
Directions: After visiting the Dome, walk westerly along Creek Street, until you reach the intersection with Payne Street. Turn right and walk northward until you arrive at:
2. ST JAMES PARISH CHURCH
(Entrance on Church Street.) This glorious 18th-century edifice boasts numerous plaques and monuments, commemorating the lives of several prominent figures in the history of St James, including members of the Barrett, Kerr and Jarrett families. Of note are two marble monuments, created by John Bacon, a famous 18th-century British sculptor. Typical of parish churches, the building possesses an old pipe organ and many beautiful stained glass windows.
Directions: Directly facing the Parish Church (on Church Street), and located inside a Georgian mansion, is the Town House Restaurant.
3. TOWN HOUSE RESTAURANT
Dating from 1765, the Town House Restaurant maintains its old world charm in the heart of the modern city. The two-storey, red brick building is a fine example of 18th-century Georgian architecture. The restaurant offers inside and outside dining, and serves a savoury menu of international and local dishes. For over a quarter of a century, the Town House Restaurant has been one of Montego Bay’s most popular dining spots for both lunch and dinner. Its guest book reportedly includes such famous names as Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. The restaurant is also famous for its collection of local art, displayed on walls around the dining area.
Directions: Once you’ve visited the Town House Restaurant and perhaps had a bite to eat, walk in an easterly direction along Church Street, taking the first left onto King Street. Continue northwards along King Street. At the corner of King and Market streets, you’ll find the Burchell Baptist Church.
4. BURCHELL BAPTIST CHURCH
Thomas Burchell, a Baptist Missionary and abolitionist, founded this church as a spiritual home for the soon-to-be-freed slaves. Sam Sharpe, one of Jamaica’s seven national heroes, was a deacon of the church. Sharpe was instrumental in the fight for the freedom of Jamaica’s slaves. In 1831, he instigated a rebellion which is accredited with advancing the end of slavery in the Caribbean. The Sam Sharpe Rebellion (also called the Christmas Rebellion) was one of the largest and most violent in Colonial history. During the rebellion, the Burchell Baptist Church was destroyed and so the present building was erected in approximately 1835.
Directions: Leave the church and make a left turn, walking westerly along Market Street toward the historic Sam Sharpe Square.
5. SAM SHARPE SQUARE
Formerly called Charles Square, the name of this town centre was changed in 1981 to commemorate Sam Sharpe’s efforts in the fight for freedom. In the aftermath of the 1831 rebellion, it is estimated that 312 slaves, including Sam Sharpe, were hung at the gallows in the square.
Directions: At the north end of the square you’ll see a brick structure, called the Cage.
6. THE CAGE
Built in 1806, the cage was used as a temporary prison for slaves, drunken seamen and other vagrants. Slaves found wandering the town after 3:00pm., were locked up in the cage. Originally, the cage was made out of wood, but it appears its occupants managed to damage the structure and so it was rebuilt with bricks.
Directions: At the centre of the square you’ll find:
7. THE CIVIC CENTRE
Opened in 2001, the Civic Centre houses a museum dedicated to the history of the parish of St James. The centre was constructed on the site of the old Montego Bay Courthouse, which was built in the 19th century and later destroyed. During its tenure, the old courthouse observed many tumultuous and monumental events, including the trial of Sam Sharpe and his followers, who were all sentenced to death for their involvement in the Christmas Rebellion of 1831.
8. THE SHARPE MONUMENT
This commemorative sculpture, created by one of Jamaica’s leading artistes, Kay Sullivan, depicts a preacher delivering a sermon to interested listeners seated around.
Directions: You may end your walking tour of Montego Bay at Sam Sharpe Square, but if you are feeling energetic and would like to see more, walk north from the square along Fort Street towards the “Hip Strip” and Fort Montego, which lies about .5 miles (800m) from Sam Sharpe Square.
9. THE FORT (FORT MONTEGO)
This old fort once guarded Montego Bay Harbour. Today, it contains the remains of an artillery store and a few well-preserved cannons as well as several souvenir and craft shops. Since this is the last stop on your walking tour, spend some time hunting the fort’s craft market for a few special gifts or reminders of your trip to Jamaica!