“You must try Devon House ice-cream, it’s the absolute best!” someone told me on a Facebook forum. All right, I thought. I’m in Kingston and I’m not going to miss out on this.
Jamaica’s first Black millionaire
Devon House has an interesting history. George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first Black millionaire had it built in 1881. He was born in the 1820s to a Jamaican servant and a German Jew. George had a hard time at school because of his heritage and left at the age of 14. He was apprenticed to a carpenter. Later, his father gave him some capital and he bought a ship. Stiebel bought two more ships and started to carry weapons to Cuba, where there was a revolution in full swing. He got in trouble with the law. However, his biggest problem was that his fleet sank off the coast of Venezuela during a storm. George managed to save his life, as well as the money he kept in a leather belt.
Stiebel started from scratch in Venezuela as a peddler in the 1850s. Later, he invested in a gold mine. By 1873, he was already a millionaire. He and his wife decided to return to Jamaica. He bought 99 properties because it was illegal to own 100. George and Magdalene commissioned Devon House in 1881. Then, the estate had 51 acres, a race course, and a swimming pool. The Stiebel clan lived here until 1923.
The Melhado family acquired the property. It comprised 11 acres by then. Mrs. Melhado didn’t like it because it was too big and they sold the house 5 years later.
The Lindo family bought Devon House from the Melhados. Cecil Lindo was a shrewd businessman with a talent for making good investments. He died in 1960 and his wife moved to New York. The usual vultures eyed the property, they wanted to tear it down and build condos. Fortunately, the State bought it and the house became part of the national heritage.
It is said that Lady Musgrave, the wife of the Governor General in the 1880s, was offended by the sight of the house built by “that uppity Black.” So, she has a road made especially for her so that she didn’t have to see it. Nowadays, that road is Lady Musgrave Avenue and it happens to be close to our apartment in New Kingston.
Devon House today
The former service area, where the kitchen, oven, servant quarters etc., were, now houses a bakery, an ice cream parlour, a boutique and a couple of restaurants. The admission fee includes a guided tour of the house, a photo permit (otherwise, you must pay for it separately if you want to take, say, wedding photos) and an ice cream voucher. As I had to kill time until the tour, which started at 12, I decided to eat the much-touted ice cream. Meh. When someone bigs something up, you have high expectations but reality never lives up to them. This is what happened here. My mango ice cream was good but not the best I’ve ever had.
The admission fee (access to the restaurants is free) is US$ 10 for “foreign residentes,” a.k.a adult tourists, and US$ 5 for children. Locals pay JA$350 respectively. I found this a bit annoying but then, I thought that locals pay taxes, which ideally help maintain places like this.
Address: Devon House Heritage Site, Hope Rd, Kingston. It opens from 10 am to 10 pm. The shops open later, at 11.