Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine:
WITH MUCH emphasis being placed on restoring the Old Capital to its former glory, the Social Development Commission (SDC) and the St Catherine Parish Council collaborated recently to beautify the areas surrounding the old cast-iron bridge, one of the country's national monuments.
The project, dubbed 'Spanish Town Upliftment', was the SDC's parish activity to celebrate November as Local Government and Community Month.
"The old iron bridge is a national treasure that needs to be highlighted. People need to recognise the significance of the bridge, and the whole environment around the bridge should be uplifted," Lloyd Erskine, field supervisor, SDC, explained to The Gleaner.
Erected in 1801, at a cost of £4,000, the old cast-iron bridge is the oldest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It is a legacy several state agencies and community-based organisations are working to preserve and develop into a prominent tourist attraction.
"Today's activity is a start to what I consider a serious effort in bringing back Spanish Town to its original foundation, in terms of its heritage tourism, and to creating a new understanding and fostering a relationship among communities," Dennis Robotham, president, St Catherine Chamber of Commerce, told The Gleaner.
The National Solid Waste Management Authority, the Kiwanis Club of the First City, the St Catherine Parish Development Committee, the Greendale Community Development Committee, and the Spanish Town Development Area Committee (STDAC) participated in the first phase of the restoration project.
Mayor of Spanish Town Norman Scott, at the unveiling of a story board erected at the entrance of the bridge, which marked the end of Phase One of the restoration project, indicated that more work would be undertaken to ensure that the environs in which the historic monument is located are eye-catching.
"We want to do some more restoration work, that is paving the area, do some more beautification to this area," he said.
Scott, councillor, Greendale division, in which the bridge is located, said the restoration programme was being done in three phases.
"We want to upgrade the shops here, give them some facelifts and build some shops in this area where tourists, and when I say tourists, it doesn't mean persons from overseas, but persons from the hinterland that would come and view this historic site and can get some refreshment," he noted.
Scott disclosed that a brochure would be designed and circulated to schools across the island.
"We want them to see it as part of their educational tours and come to this site. We want to send some of these brochures to the Ministry of Tourism where they would now include it as one of the places of interest marketed overseas so that when people come to Jamaica, they can now come to see the oldest iron bridge in the Western Hemisphere," he explained.
Scott added: "I am also expecting another phase where we could build some steps, partially going down to the river, and get a better view of what this bridge is. I have already had discussions with the Tourism Product Development Company and they are fully on-board."
Chairman, STDAC, Bishop Rohan Edwards, was quick to point out that come February 21-23 next year, the spotlight would be turned on a major community expo bringing together schools, community groups, and businesses to showcase the Old Capital.
"All the schools will be coming in to view the major heritage sites in Spanish Town. The tourist board is a part of this, and they will be bringing tourists from all over to Spanish Town, especially those three days. We believe that there are many heritage sites that are in Spanish Town that could be a major tourism pull for our community," Edwards said.
Residents of the nearby communities, including Beacon Hill and Thompson Pen, who volunteered their services to assist with the beautification project, said they were pleased with the efforts being made to restore Spanish Town.
"I feel so good to know that something has started. We have young people who can get some jobs when everything complete and I commend Mayor Scott," said 62-year-old Ida Northover, a member of the Beacon Hill senior citizens' club.