Portland: Birthplace of Jamaica's Tourism

Portland Parish in Parish Map of JamaicaPortland is the parish in the northeast corner of Jamaica.  It borders St.Mary to the West, and St. Thomas to the south.  It is probably the most rural parish in Jamaica, which is more challenging for the locals, but means it is closer to the Jamaica that was, which was the start of Jamaica's reputation as a tourist destination.  Portland has some of the most beautiful beaches, if not the largest, and is also the home of the Blue Mountains which peak 7.402 feet, and has been frost covered at times.  Even Jamaicans acknowledge that Portland is the most beautiful parish, not only for its many geographic gems, but for its  lush flora due to receiving the most consistent rain in Jamaica.  Errol Flynn expressed the profoundness of Portland's beauty powerfully when he stated ... that she was, "the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes upon."  It was the first major hotel in Jamaica on the Titchfield Peninsula, pictured at top, that Errol Flynn initially bought to possess a piece of this "most beautiful woman."

 

Downtown Port AntonioThe capital of Portland, is Port Antonio, a bustling town really, but the commercial heart of Portland.  There is the main market, Musgrave Market, Royal Mall, several local eateries, and a few internet cafes in town. Just outside of town is the Portland Craft Village, a set of shops and restaurants catering primarily to visitors wanting hand made arts and crafts, and/or tourist memorobilia. There are two nationally recognized artists selling their wares in the village. Other majar towns in the parish are Saint Margarets's Bay, pictured on the home page, Buff Bay, Hope Bay, and Manchioneal.  

Tourism in Jamaica, started in earnest 1905 with the Titchfield Hotel.  It was huge, with 400 rooms. The money for this venture came from Lorenzo Dow Baker, a cargo ship captain, having discovered bananas in Jamaica, after having to take unplanned stop in Jamaica due to heavy squalls, while enroute to Venezuela.  He made a fortune by buying bananas in Jamaica for 25 cents a bunch, and selling them in New York for $2.50 a banana.  He would go one to found Boston Fruit Company and then cofound the United Fruit Company.  The company which would make millions and be responsible for the banana republics of Latin America.  Earlier hotels were prior visions of Mr Baker, who had started building smaller hotels in Portland as early as 1895.

The Old Titchfield HotelIn a time when only the rich could afford to globe trot, and the method of transportation was ship or yacht, it was primarily rich Americans who were guests at that time, and that list included: Bette Davis, Ginger Rodgers, Clara Bow, Rudyard Kipling, William Randolph Hearst, and J.P. Morgan, to name a few.   These notable figures came to Jamaica, and the Titchfield because it was lauded as the most elegant hotel on "this side of the Atlantic" at the time.

The hotel would go into serious disrepair after the Great Depression killed tourism, and then it was burned down in 1936.  After it's repair, it became the residence for a certain set of English society who brought all the accoutrement and ritual of "society" with them and found life in the tropics more to their tastes.  Errol Flynn, also discovering Portland after unexpectdedly needing to repair his yacht in Jamaica, would bring celebrity back to the Titchfield by buying it 1951, and using it as the base for partying with his celebrity friends.

Portland would stay a major tourist destination as long as it was the place where the cruise ships docked, and travellers could get off and spend some time visiting one of their many destination spots.  It would also continue to be appreciated by those with money as a beautiful place to have a second home or a villa, and thus the creation of the San San estates, and the many villas along the coast.  When the docks for the larger cruise ships were moved from Portland to Ocho Rios tourism declined, and therefore so did a lot of the local economy.  Although this is hard on the locals living in the parish, it also means that Portland is one of best destinations for those who are travellers interested in experiencing the slower more agrarian feeling culture that was a part of Jamaica's charm and reptuation through the seventies.  



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