The Titchfield Hotel, Part I

09 Jan

     Dear Errol Fans,

     The story of the Titchfield Hotel covers alot of territory, and instead of butchering it to save space, I have decided to divide it into 2 or maybe 3 parts.

     For clarity's sake, I have labeled the photos; Titchfield I, Titchfield II, and Titchfield III. As the story develops, you will understand the reason for this.

    As in any really fascinating tale there is a visionary man or woman behind it, and this is no exception. The visionary in this tale is one Lorenzo Dow Baker. Born in Wellfleet, MA in 1840 to a family of fisherman, he was apprenticed to a Capt. by age 10, and  10 yrs. later was Capt. and owner of his own schooner, 'Vineyard'. At age 30, with his new 70 ton, 3 masted schooner, 'Telegraph', he was transporting a load of mining equipment to Venezuela when he was caught in 'heavy squalls' and limped into the E. bay of Port Antonio, JA for much needed repairs. The story was that Baker, while roaming about the town, saw an old man with a tiny donkey so loaded down with strange looking 'pods' that the donkey was barely visible. Baker asked the man what those 'pods' were and the old man replied 'nahnahs' They were about 'twice as long as a man's thumb' and after sampling a couple, a grand idea lit up in Baker's head. He was convinced they would sell in the U.S.

    Baker bought a large load of banana's for next to nothing and set off for Boston, but alas, by the time he arrived, the fruit had over ripened and gone bad. Undeterred, Baker returned the next year(1871) and loaded up again with as many green banana's as he could for the price of 25 cents per bunch and sold the cargo in New York for the huge markup of $2.50 per banana! The die was cast then and there. Baker quit his cargo hauling business and concentrated on banana's. Being ever the shrewd businessman, he would load the ship returning to JA with flour, cured meats, pork, salt cod, herring, shoes, boots, furniture, and textiles.(typical 'buy where it is plentiful and sell where it is scarce') At this point, Baker was making 5 trips per year, and the money was literally coming in by the truck-loads! Baker had more money than he knew what to do with, but far from being satisfied, and being bitten by the 'money bug' he sought out ways to make ever more riches. One of these was was by founding The United Fruit Company and going into partnership with plantation and railroad magnate; Minor C. Keith(whom he later bought out) Another was buying vast tracts of prime JA land from Port Antonio to Morant Bay Point for setting up his own banana plantations, and last, but far from least; Hitting upon the idea that tourists would pay good money to visit JA if there were only 'proper accommodations'.

    You see, in those days, only the wealthy could afford to travel from continent to continent(something we take for granted today) and first-class treatment was obligatory. So in 1895, Baker went about building a rather small hotel in the 'tropical style' of the day. He picked the top of a small peninsula jutting out from the N.end of Port Antonio called 'Titchfield', and at the highest point on the peninsula he started building a main house that contained the dining room, kitchen, sitting room, and rooms for the staff on the second floor. A number of cottages(over a dozen) were built for the guests and a large detached bath house was built to the N. of the cottages. Business caught on and before long, Baker had more guests than places to put them.  A temporary solution was to build a few guest houses across Queen St. to handle the overflow. One such place still exists; i.e. the “Scotia House' on the corner of Musgrave and Queen St.(caddy-corner to the Titchfield property) I stay there when I go to JA and it is old but very friendly.

    In the meantime, Baker continued to reap a kings ransom from his 'golden' banana crop. He now cornered the market, contracted with a steamship company, then promptly bought them out, and things really started to 'rock & roll'. The ships now made weekly trips back and forth from  JA to N.Y. City, Boston, New Orleans, and even the U.K. with ships transporting 650 tons of fruit per month by refrigerated steamship to the docks in Liverpool. In fact, the traffic of Baker's boats exceeded all other ship traffic combined in Liverpool. Baker also bought over a third of all waterfront property in Port Antonio. The ships would be loaded at night so the heat and sun wouldn't damage the fruit. In fact the banana boat song 'Day-O' by Harry Belafonte was written about workers loading Baker's boats on the Port Antonio waterfront. The workers made about 70 cents a day.(very good wages for the time)

    With the business now worth well over 20 million dollars in 1902 and no end in sight, Baker now set his sights on building the 'Grandest Hotel this side of the Atlantic'. Baker had stayed at the 'Myrtle Bank Hotel' in Kingston, JA(the largest Hotel in the island at the time) and was very impressed indeed with the style of architecture, the 200 + opulent rooms, and the fact that it was so 'over the top' with such amenities as a filtered salt-water swimming pool and other 'outrageous for the day' luxuries that he vowed to do one better, bigger, and ever more grand. But first, (ever being L.D. Baker) he bought the hotel outright.

     Now Baker set his eye on the original Titchfield. Seeing no better place for his grand dream than the property he already owned, he set about tearing down the original Titchfield and clearing the property for his dream hotel. Having been impressed with the design of the Myrtle Bank Hotel, He decided to carry the same design to the new Titchfield only much, much larger. The new Titchfield would have 440 rooms, 600 ft. of piazza for guests to walk upon, be 5 stories tall instead of 4,(like the Myrtle Bank) have a grand ball room, a huge sitting room with electric elevator, (very rare for the time) massive kitchen and formal dining room, and an all American staff trained in Boston and N.Y. to cater to a guest's every need. The hotel's footprint would measure a whopping 700 ft. by 350 ft. and be the largest hotel in that part of the world and one of the largest hotels extant. The army of workers (most brought in from the U.S.) set about 1904 building the behemoth, and by 1905 it was finished. Baker now had his dream hotel. He even had a special house built just down Musgrave St. for his physician; The still standing Demontevin Lodge.

     Next in The Titchfield Hotel, Part II; The 'new' Titchfield is a world-wide hit.



— john


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  1. Anonymous

    August 17, 2011 at 2:20 am

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