Isn’t it magical that everywhere has a story to tell? Tales of romance, tragedy, wickedness, bravery, cowardice etc. If you’re familiar with my travel posts, you’ll know that I love to give a historical perspective. That’s because the past explains the present– how did a place get its name, why does it looks the way it does now or even just for general knowledge and appreciation. However, history is sometimes the only thing that entices people to visit a place. That, my friends, is how I found myself at the old Folly Mansion (Folly Great House) on my way back to Kingston from the Portland Sea Cliff Resort & Spa.
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Now for the article:
The Myth of Folly Mansion
Once the most opulent house in Jamaica, legend has it that the Folly Mansion was built by a rich American to impress his sweetheart and convince her to migrate to Jamaica with him. However, the building was structurally weak as it was made with cement mixed with saltwater rather than fresh water in his rush to erect the structure for her. The property overlooks the sea so it was the closest water source available. By the time his wife visited, the mansion had already started to crumble. She exclaimed, “What a folly!”, flew back to America and never returned. The distraught husband subsequently abandoned the property and so it was left to crumble to the ground.
A Grain of Truth in Every Myth
There’s always a grain of truth in every myth. The grains are that: 1) the mansion was actually built in 1905 by a retired engineer Alfred Mitchell for his sweetheart Annie Tiffany, the Tiffany heiress and that, 2) sea water was mixed into the cement used to erect the entire first floor of the house. However, given that the concrete portion of the house has remained standing for over 100 years, this obviously did not cause the kind of immediate crumbling that the legend describes.
The Far Less Dramatic Truth of Folly Mansion
On a visit to Jamaica, the aforementioned couple fell in love with Port Antonio and purchased land at Folly Point to build a home. The lavish mansion was named after its location and was a grand structure in its heyday, built in Roman Villa style with 60 rooms spread across 2 floors. It was well-equipped for its time featuring a wind-powered generator to pump seawater into an indoor swimming pool, its own power station, an independent water reservoir, sauna, stables and a menagerie. They kept all sorts of animals including imported peacocks and monkeys. The monkeys were eventually given free-run of the nearby Pellew Island (one of Jamaica’s tiny cays) which has subsequently been renamed Monkey Island as a result. Note: There are no monkeys there presently.
Alfred died in 1911 but Annie continued to live at Folly Mansion until the start of the first World War in 1914 when she returned to the USA. The mansion was sold then abandoned shortly after by its new owners. This led to the house being scavenged and falling into disrepair. The second floor collapsed due to looting and negligence in 1936 and is now owned by the Jamaican government. The only upgrade they have made to the property is to erect a surrounding fence for safety. The ruins have become a charming destination which attracts sightseers, photographers and models for photo shoots, and directors shooting music videos.
How to Find Folly Ruins
Folly Ruins and Lighthouse are located on a private peninsula past the Folly Cricket Oval on the outskirts of Port Antonio. To get there, turn left off Folly Road (coming from the direction of Annotto Bay to Port Antonio) onto a dirt road then turn right just before the cricket pitch. This dirt path will lead you straight to the mansion. The mansion is now fenced off for safety as parts of it are crumbling, therefore please visit at your own risk. If you walk a few metres beyond the mansion to the Caribbean Sea, you can see a secluded beach and tiny island which I believe to be Woods Island (thanks to Don, a reader who pointed this out!) We only ran into one small group of persons while there.
Since we were in the area, we drove a bit further along the peninsula to the Folly Lighthouse which was built in 1888 long before the mansion. It stands at 40 feet high (about 15m), is constructed from fireproof masonry and flashes a solar-powered white light every 10 seconds which is visible for 13 miles (21 km). A lawn surrounds the lighthouse which is maintained by the Port Authority of Jamaica, an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Works. The lighthouse’s red and white colour was striking against the piercingly blue sky.
Folly Ruins offer a wistful reminder of times gone-by and stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. I hope you enjoyed learning about this place. For me, it was worth the half hour detour. Lastly, please pick up a copy of my book ‘SIGHTSEE JAMAICA’ on Amazon which contains this and many other Jamaican gems. Remember to leave a review if you do!
‘Til next time ✌
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