Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Blenheim forgotten in history

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Eric Williams - Photo by Ian Allen/Photographer
A little taxi navigates the bad road leading to the birthplace of Sir Alexander Bustamante in Blenheim, Hanover. - Photo by Ian Allen/Photographer

More than one year ago, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill told Parliament of a plan to restore and maintain the birthplaces of Jamaica's national heroes and prime ministers. Today, The Sunday Gleaner begins a series on the present state of these premises with a look at Blenheim in Hanover,  the birthplace of former Prime Minister and National Hero, Sir Alexandr Bustamante.

Tyrone Thompson, Gleaner Staff Reporter

The treacherous, dusty roadways and the many abandoned houses along the side of the road belied the significance of the quaint community of Blenheim, Hanover.

The few overgrown signs by the side of the road correctly identified Blenheim as a national heritage site, but the residents of the community believe that history had left them behind.

"Take a picture of the road dem," shouted one elderly resident as a Gleaner news team entered the community. "Can you believe say two prime ministers of Jamaica come from this little place and yet the road dem look like this?"

The resident, Eric Williams, said he has lived in the community for more than 40 years and has watched the slow decay of the community.

"Up a Dias is where (former prime minister) P.J. Patterson born and him use to climb mango tree as a little boy. Further up the road a where (former prime minister and national hero Sir Alexander) Bustamante born and yet this road don't fix fi 28 years," charged Williams.

Patricia Dawes, who has been the caretaker for the Bustamante exhibit since 1991, asserted that the poor state of the roadway leading to the property, which was refurbished in 2007, contributed to it feeling like a ghost town.

"Sometimes fi months not one person don't come up here," said Dawes as she led the news team around the property. "Tourists and people from all around use to come up, but them complain and say the road too bad and it a mash up them vehicle."

Lack of water

The lack of water at the facility was another reason most visitors stay away from the venue. The washrooms bore out that grim reality as visitors who use them have to use water stored in a bucket to wash their hands and to flush the toilets.

"The pipes are dry, we have two tanks that we fill with rainwater, but when those run dry we have to buy water from the Water Commission trucks, and even they are reluctant to come up here because of the how the road bad," charged Dawes.

The reduction in visitors to Bustamante's birth site has had a devastating impact on the community, as residents who earned their living from selling to visitors have seen a tremendous decline in sales.

"Nutten no deh yah fe do, me boss," said one young resident as he played a game of ludo on the side of the road. "When people use to pass through you know say shop and bar and them thing deh gwaan and we use to eat a food, but now nothing nutten nah gwaan."

Another resident, who gave his name as Errol, charged that because the community is the birthplace of the founding leader of the Jamaica Labour Party is one of the reasons it is being ignored by the current administration.

"Maybe if it was (Norman) Manley born down here them would treat the place little better, because when the other party was in power, every February (around Bustamante's birthday) you know you would see the place nice up and road patch up, but now nothing."

However, Anthony Walker, councillor for the Caulwell division which includes Blenheim, refuted any claims of political victimisation against community.

"I don't think we should wait on February to actually do work there and I've asked for some funding to do some work there, but it's not sufficient to do all of it at once. However, by the end of the year, we should have much of the road stretching from Cove to the historical site repaired," said Walker, who ran on a People's National Party (PNP) ticket.

According to Walker, his PNP colleague, the member of parliament for the area, Ian Hayles, is in consultation with the National Water Commission to run lines from Lucea to Dias, which would bring water back to Blenheim.

"We were told that these would have been completed by November. They are almost at Dias now so, hopefully, by the end of the month water should be in Blenheim," declared Walker.

But this was of little consolation to Errol as he bemoaned the sad state of "Maas Busta's town".

"Pure talk that, man; every year a the same thing we hear, but all me know say it no right fi them treat Maas Busta place so. Them need fi just put politics aside and do what's right fi the place.