The main building

Compared with the main buildings of a European estate the ‘Great House’ of the plantations was not large. In the early period the planters’ houses were built of timber, but given the conditions and the lifestyle of the planters, over time the main building became well built, neat, cool and hurricane-proof. Some Great Houses also express architectural ambitions. A few stand out as bigger, more beautiful or unique in their architecture. The most striking example from the period is probably the main house on the plantation Whim.

Typically the building would have 7-9 windows and a door in the middle, and it would be built on high foundations permitting an elegant, sweeping, welcoming staircase that takes you up to the shady, covered loggia in front of the house. The high windows would be fitted with shutters and louvers that regulated light and ventilation.

Indoors there was mahogany furniture with candles in hurricane lamps – known simply as ‘hurricanes’ – and net bed hangings as protection against mosquitoes.

The kitchen – the ‘cook-house’ – consisted of a large chimney with an open hearth in brick, so the main house was almost fireproof, as the heat and fire hazard from cooking was kept at a distance from the planter’s family home.

Around the main house there were also other buildings such as stables, a coach house, outhouses, a dovecote and a chicken coop, as well as an ornamental garden and orchard. On some plantations there was also a hospital where sick and injured slaves could be treated.

Today almost all the plantation buildings are more or less in ruins. The Great Houses have often been refurbished and occupied as residences. On some properties the ruins are kept free of vegetation, and stand like giant sculptures in an open, park-like garden.