Heritage at Risk – Save Melrose House

Save Melrose House

Melrose House – Source: The Willie Redhead Foundation

In August of 2010, many Grenadians became aware of the potential to lose yet another of Grenada’s significant historic heritage sites. In this case, the threat was not from a natural disaster like hurricane Ivan, but from the wrecking ball. Threatened is Melrose House of Gouyave, in St. Johns Parish.

Melrose House, believed to be built in the early to mid-19th century, is threatened by its new owners who would like it demolished in order to make way for construction of a new hardware store on the site where it currently stands.

The building, believed to be first owned by the Commissiong family, is one of few of its type remaining in Gouyave today.

Melrose House, is a good example of Caribbean Architecture from the mid-19th century.

It encompassed the combination of French and English elements that defines architecture that is uniquely Caribbean.

One looking to identify the different architectural styles utilized in the design of Melrose House can find French in the steep pitch roof, English in the double-hung windows, and in it raised basement.

The placement of buildings on piers, which help improve ventilation and protects against floods, and the implementation of deep porches that provide shade and shelter for inhabitants and buildings alike, are ideas European builders learned from the building methods.

This point is important, because to a large degree, many in Caribbean populations reject the historic architecture found throughout the Caribbean, on the grounds that they are a vestige of colonial times and lack connection to them. Grenadians are likely no different.

Not only is a landmark like Melrose House representative of the cultural amalgam that defines Grenadian society, but it is part of the historical continuum that connects Grenada’s past and present.

The cavernous underside of Melrose House, where large rum vats were stored, and the existence of Grenada’s longest-ever-built wooden jetty nearby, suggests a connection to Grenada’s industrial heritage past, in which large shipments of rum were exported to Europe.

Between 1930 and 1940, Melrose House transitioned from private to public ownership , and for a period was the residence of successive Attorneys General of the Windward Islands.

Notable among those that resided at Melrose house was Justice Keith Alleyne, the renowned Queens Council, Attorney General of the Windward Islands, and acting Judge of the Windward and Leeward Islands High Court. Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue, who was Chief Secretary of Windward Islands and serve as interim President of Dominica, also resided at Melrose House.

Because Melrose House served as the residence of the Attorneys General of The Windward Islands, the history of the OECS, which succeeded the West Indies Associated States, is replete with the names of persons who at some point stayed there.  The demolition of Melrose House would represent the ripping out of a page in Grenada’s history book.

Declaring Melrose House a national heritage landmark and developing it as a small museum is one way to preserve and protect it from destruction.  This museum can follow the numerous examples of small museums worldwide, whose mission is the preservation of heritage and cultural properties of significance, in order to exhibit they role in the development of societies. Some notable examples of this regionally and globally are: Arlington House, Speightstown, Barbados; Greenwood Great House, Montego Bay, Jamaica; Goethe House in Frankfurt, Germany, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia, US.

Creating The Melrose House Museum would have a direct impact on the town of Gouyave. Combined with a well define historic district, Gouyave would benefit in a variety of ways – most notably through economic activity from increased daily tourist visits and raising the profile of the town as a destination in Grenada.

Melrose House can be the foundation for a national museum system, whose mandate would be the management and preservation of significant heritage buildings and sites throughout all of Grenada.

An INTERCOM 2006 Conference Paper, titled Measuring the Impact of Museums on their Communities: The role of the 21st century museum notes that:

… the value of local museums were the links back to community; opportunities for people to visit, including attending events; the work opportunities (both paid & unpaid) that were available; the wealth that the museum creates in the local community leading to generate money to go back to the community. Broader outcomes were also identified, such as developing an appreciation of place and culture, community pride, museums preserving heritage, and opportunities for learning across all age levels.

Structures like Melrose House (and there are many throughout Grenada) provide an invaluable service, bridging the Grenada of now to that of yesteryear. Through they existence, Grenadians and visitors alike are provided tangible connections to the country’s rich history and heritage.

If the living Grenadian history that Melrose House embodies is allowed to die; if the profits of one business man trumps the interest of an entire nation and it generations to follow, then Grenada must answer some fundamental questions about what it is as a society.  Is Grenada a place that can strike a balance between short term economic gain and long term cultural preservation?  Is Grenada a country with leadership that can devise innovative approaches that enables it to leverage its historic character for both cultural and economic purposes?  And lastly, but probably most important: Are Grenadians willing to fight for the history that so much defines them?

What happens to Melrose House will provide an answer that will reverberate for generations to come.

The Grenada Action Forum will like to acknowledge the contributions of Mr. Ray Smith towards this article and is lifelong dedication to the preservation of Grenada’s heritage and historic places and sites.

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