EDITORIAL: Preserve our historic buildings
WHY is it that when you go overseas, you can visit a number of heritage sites and be awestruck by how well-kept they are for visitors desirous of enjoying a historic experience, whilst in Barbados, we allow our historic buildings to crumble?
Truth be told, we really can do better when it comes to preserving Barbados’ built heritage. The Barbados National Trust, the body incorporated by an Act of Parliament to be involved in the preservation of places of historic, architectural and archaeological interest and of ecological importance or natural beauty, has been doing its best to stay true to its mission. The Preservation (Barbados) Foundation Trust has done its part over the years to raise funds for the preservation of the built heritage of Barbados. Previously, it listed a number of projects it had its eyes set on, “from a simple row of ancient chattel houses in Bay Street, representative of our most significant cultural icon, to Culloden Farm, the official residence of National Hero the Right Excellent Errol Barrow; from the Marshall Hall to the Carnegie Library and the extraordinary 300-year-old Supreme Court of 1733, next door; from the Old Eye Hospital of 1805 to the magnificent Glendairy Prison…”. Indeed, the work the Trust has done in the past to restore the age-old, but precious Carnegie Library is commendable.
The last Government had plans to restore the historic Empire Theatre building, in historic Bridgetown, our capital, that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many persons in the older generation were anticipating this, as the Empire Theatre was a hot spot back in the day. Indeed, once restored, it could be used by those in our cultural industries and for the arts and entertainment. However, we would have to hear of any new updated plans for such a restoration from the present administration.
We also have a number of chattel houses across the island that can be restored, as well as a number of old buildings in The City, which are in need of maintenance. The idea is not just to rebuild or restore these key pieces of architecture, but to find ways in which they can be put to good use in the tourism sector once it rebounds, or as stated earlier, in the cultural industries sector or even the educational arena.
A good example of how our built heritage can serve to benefit us, is the case of George Washington House. At nineteen years of age, George Washington, who would later go on to become the first President of the United States of America, visited Barbados in 1751 and spent about two months. Barbados was the only country he ever visited outside America. This fact alone now makes a tour of George Washington House a must-do activity for visitors from the USA. The House is now under the control of the Barbados National Trust.
We have also heard rumblings about a possible restoration of the childhood home of the Father of Independence, the late Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, a National Hero of Barbados. That was under the previous administration, so we are not sure if such plans will come to fruition for this independent nation.
Nevertheless, before we lose more of our historic buildings or they are left to just crumble, we should seek to restore them and preserve more of our historic buildings and by extension our heritage.