The architecture of the Turks and Caicos Islands originates in the heart of the islands’ history, the era of The Salt Industry. The period is one of tremendous building on the islands of Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay. It reflects the islands’ architectural heritage and captures the essence of what these islands were like and how they were different from other islands.
The first permanent settlements in Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay, after those of the perished Lucayan Arawaks (Caribbean Indians), were established by immigrants from Bermuda in 1678. These immigrants saw the potential of the islands for salt producing and trading purposes. The other islands, those in the Caicos group, were colonised by loyalist refugees from Georgia in 1787, after the Declaration of Independence by the United States, who came with their slaves and established a cotton growing industry and an agrarian economy, that proved successful for many years until 1820. The great hurricane of 1813, along with soil exhaustion and insect attack, resulted in the ultimate failure of plantation activities on the Caicos Islands.
The planters abandoned the Caicos Islands, some going, with their slaves, to Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay, as well as to other West Indian Islands and others went to Florida. The Caicos Islands later became overridden with scrubby bush and cactus. On Providenciales, in Cheshire Hall, there are some of the ruins of the buildings of loyalist planters. Few, if any, buildings of any architectural consequence had been constructed before 1787: the colonists being too few in numbers and their footing too insecure to build structures of an enduring nature. From 1787 onwards more substantial and permanent structures appeared.
The Bermudan salt traders and loyalist planters from the American revolution brought their building styles with them to the islands. Their simple designs, with aspects of grandeur, size and sufficiency were patterned after the English Georgian style but adapted to the climate, consisting of a rectangular plan, two or three storeys in height and generally with an attic and cellar. The materials used were blocks of local stone and timber. Grand Turk, which has the greatest number of buildings of architectural interest in the Turks and Caicos Islands, is the focus, for the most part of this article.
Characteristic architectural features are verandahs, wooden louvres (that sometimes enclose the entire verandahs), shutters (sometimes louvred), high pitched roofs, dor-mer windows, balustrades, brackets and lattice work, quoins and stepped chimneys off the kitchens. Some features can be ascribed to Bermudans and others to loyalists.
Unlike Providenciales, Grand Turk has a definable town centre, Cockburn Town, a centrally located area between the northern and
southern sections of the island. The morphology of this area makes it the ideal town centre, which contains buildings of fine architecture, and a few of significant historical interest. A walk through the alley of Grand Turk is never dull, with all sorts of interesting buildings and other remnants of the islands’ salt industry history. The majority of the buildings date from the 1800’s. The entire area bounded by Frederick Street, Pond Street, Duke Street and the west coast, is worthy of being designated a conservation area because of its considerable architectural cohesion and visual appeal.
From the late 1970’s a few of the original buildings within the area have been either destroyed by fire, or demolished to make way for new developments. Today, there are new buildings, with all modern conveniences, but that complement Cockburn Town architecturally. The Magistrate’s Court, which is located at the junction of Pond Street and Moxey Road, the office of Turks & Caicos Banking Company Ltd., which is located at the junction of Duke Street and Chancery Lane, and the offices of Finbar F. Dempsey & Company, which is located on Market Street, are all very good examples of new developments that incorporate traditional architectural features into their designs. On Providenciales, the Ports Of Call complex immediately opposite of the Allegro Resort and the Tropicana Plaza development located on Leeward Highway, rank highest for incorporating traditional elements of architectural design.
Buildings of architectural and/or historical interest, which exist on the islands, have the potential to develop as one of the islands’ biggest attractions for visitors and lure more visitors than ever to the islands. A concerted effort has to be implemented to designate, restore, preserve and protect buildings of architectural and/or historical interest and to promote of heritage tourism. Building Guidelines for Providenciales, particularly in the Grace Bay location, need to be implemented for proposed developments in the area, in order to develop something traditional in character and appearance.
Turks and Caicos Islanders are becoming increasingly involved in civic, cultural, heritage and environmental issues. These are some of the essential issues that we realise require stability and that needs to be addressed through community action in our changing society. It is important that we retain our architectural heritage if the next generation of islanders are to have guiding principles for future development.
The Report on the Listings and Preservation of Historic Buildings and Zones of the Turks and Caicos Island’s by UNCHS, March, 1998, is a good and definitive study of the architectural heritage of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Clyde B. Robinson was born on the island of Grand Turk and is currently the Assistant Director of Planning for the TCI Government, based in Providenciales. He studied in England for six years (Manchester 1988-90 and Oxford 1991-95) where he obtained an under-graduate Diploma in Land Administration from Central Manchester College of Building, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Town & Country Planning and a Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Impact Assessment and Management from Oxford Brookes University.