Group works to save historic Caymanian cottage

| 16/07/2019
CNS Local Life
Minister for Culture Dwayne Seymour (centre) with some of the group preserving the cottage (L-R) Tania Knapik and Ally McRae of NCB, ministry intern Isabella Rooney, museum director Dr Peggy Leshikar-Denton, ministry DCO Nancy Barnard, and members of the National Trust – chairman Andy Gibb, volunteer Sue Gibb, director Nadia Hardie and Rhonda Cornwall

(CNS Local Life): A multifaceted group of heritage stakeholders is working to preserve a traditional Caymanian-style cottage built in the early 1800’s by relocating it to the Mission House property in Bodden Town. Towards that end, the Ministry of Culture has concluded the procurement exercise to move the Clayton Nixon home, which is located on Goring Avenue in George Town.

The dwelling is named for a former owner and thought to have been constructed by his grandfather, stated a press release.

Minister for Culture Dwayne Seymour explained that in mid-2018 his ministry learned that the cottage, which is on the National Trust’s Register of Historic Buildings, was in danger of being demolished due to the upcoming development of Citrus Grove II.

“The structure is one of the few remaining examples of an early home, and according to records, was possibly one of the first homes owned by a former slave,” Seymour said in the press release. “It is also a fine example of traditional Caymanian construction techniques with walls that include wattle and daub as well as limestone. We quickly decided that we had to save this fine aspect of our built heritage from demolition.”

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Architect John Doak (left) conducts as-built survey of the cottage

In addition to the ministry, which is represented by Deputy Chief Officer Nancy Barnard, the group involved in the project comprises Dr Peggy Leshikar-Denton, director of the Cayman Islands National Museum (CINM); Marcia Muttoo, managing director of the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF); director Nadia Hardie, chairman Andrew Gibb, and Historical Advisory Committee members John Doak, Cathy Frazier and Sue Gibb of the National Trust; Colleen Stoetzel of the Planning Department; and Alan Wight and Ally McRae of NCB Group who represent the developers of the Citrus Grove office complex.

While Seymour worked to get Cabinet approval of funding for the project, Frazier conducted research to verify the historical value of the property and vernacular architecture expert Doak conducted an as-built survey of the house, the release said.

CNS Local Life
The stepwell on the site

Dr Leshikar-Denton, who is also on the Historical Advisory Committee, researched the stepwell on the property, and Gibb assisted with the ground survey along with a small group of volunteer archaeologists from the southern US. These volunteers were able to travel to Grand Cayman to do the pro bono work through a grant from Seymour.

Hardie said of the project, “The Trust is delighted to have been involved in the preservation of the Clayton Nixon house – which is a historic treasure of national significance as it offers invaluable insight into traditional architecture of that era – and in providing a home for it at our signature property the Mission House.

“One of the mandates of the Trust is to promote an awareness for and appreciation of the Cayman Islands’ built heritage and to preserve places of historic significance. Our Historic Advisory Committee has been instrumental in documenting, recording and registering the Clayton Nixon house and stepwell, along with other historic properties across all three Cayman Islands.”

CNS Local Life
Detail of the home’s wattle and daub with limestone wall and ironwood posts

Noting a gap in existing legislation to adequately protect Caymanian-built heritage, ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn said that addressing this gap is a priority of the National Culture and Heritage Policy. “The Cayman Islands has developed so quickly over the past several decades that we have lost some irreplaceable historical structures and others are still at risk today,” Ahearn said.

Barnard thanked McRae of NCB who brought the issue of the Clayton Nixon home to the attention of the culture and heritage organisations. “It often starts with the passion of just one individual, in this case…NCB’s Caymanian university graduate Ally McRae, to enable these types of initiatives to take place,” Barnard said.

“The developers have paused their activity for months while we get the logistics in place. Saving this fine example of built heritage is aligned with the Culture and Heritage Policy direction five: ensuring the place of culture and heritage in development.”

The next steps for the ministry are awarding the job to the successful proponent, working with the Public Works Department to seek planning permission, and developing a medium- and long-term plan for the use of the house after it is relocated.

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Category: Architecture, Arts, Local News

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