One of Jamaica’s most celebrated historical landmarks Devon House is the architectural dream of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Stiebel. Stiebel was among three wealthy Jamaicans who constructed elaborate homes during the late 19th century at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Hope Road, which fittingly became known as the Millionaires Corner. Stiebel’s legacy lives on with the beautifully maintained Devon House, which was declared a national monument in 1990 by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Many would be surprised to learn however that the early history of Devon House dates back to the mid seventeenth century when Britain captured Jamaica from Spain.
One of the central roles of the British Government was to introduce religion to the people of Jamaica, and Rev. John Zellers was among five Ministers selected for service in the island. On his arrival Rev. Zellers was appointed to serve the parish of St. Andrew. The glebe, as land attached to the Anglican Church was termed, was awarded to Rev. Zellers. In the letter of patent given by Charles 11 on May 1667 Rev Zellers was assigned, ” land, meadow, pasture and woodlands..ye same containing 600 acres…together with all edifices, woods, trees, rents, commodities, ways and passages…and all mines and minerals whatsoever in ye premises.”
Devon Penn was part of the 600 acres awarded to Zellers. The glebe lands, which fell to Zellers, stretched from the site of the St. Andrew Parish Church, north to Sandy Gully, encompassing Old Church Road and including the grounds of the present Kings House. To the south it bordered Trafalgar Penn, now occupied by the British High Commission. Among the first undertakings by Zellers was the construction of a church on a piece of land, bordered by Upper Waterloo Road and West King’s House Road. Just before his death in 1700, Rev Zellers was fortunate enough to be able to serve the parish from the current site of the St. Andrew Parish Church. Fifty (50) years later the Rectory was built on foundations now occupied by the Devon House Mansion. It is believed that Rev George Eccles who served the parish between 1747-1760, was the first Minister to live in the new rectory. It was at the start of Rev. John Campbell’s tenure in 1782 that the vestry minutes indicate that some extensive repairs were undertaken on the Church Rectory, resulting in several major additions to the structure (additions which some believe to be a part of the architectural history of Devon House).
Rev. John Campbell served the St. Andrew Parish Church until his death in 1813, and his son Alexander succeeded him as Rector. Alexander who grew up at theDevon Penn Rectory, also made the premises home for his children. During his 45-year tenure as Rector Alexander lived at the Rectory. There is every indication that like his father, Alexander was devoted to his duties as Rector, and almost to the end of his life he continued to serve his congregation, “The last baptismal register entry signed by him (Alexander) was on Nov 4 1858 and he died on December 8, 1858.”
This house is a fine example of nineteenth (19th) century domestic architecture in Jamaica. It is a beautifully restored mansion and major source of attraction and place of relaxation.The magnetic appeal of Devon House is not just in the beautifully restored rooms, with their antique furniture and lovely decorations, but also in the shops selling Jamaican craft items, and the restaurants serving authentic Jamaican food. It is a major source of pride for many Jamaicans.
Information Sources – www.jnht.com and www.devonhousejamaica.com