As soon as I heard that the oldest house in the Caribbean was on Nevis, I knew I had to go and visit. Our visit got even better because during our lunch we met one of the owners, Richie. After we were done eating he took us on a private tour of the house and grounds.
We learned that it was built with wood from a tree called lignum vitae, which once grew throughout the Caribbean. This wood is known to be the hardest, thickest, and oiliest wood in the world. Making it immune to rot, termites, and other things that destroy lumber. It was also determined to be great as a boat building material making them stronger than ever. The only problem is the lignum vitae takes several hundred years to grow and since it was all cut and used there is precious little left in the Caribbean.
The house was built sometime before 1640 using an earthfast building method, where the corner posts were driven directly into the ground. The entire structure is held together with wood pegs and notched beams and there is not one nail used. Richie also stated that the high pitched roof helps it survive hurricanes because the wind pushes the roof down instead of pulling it up and he should know since he has weathered many storms over the years.
You see Richie’s parents found the Hermitage abandoned in the early 80’s and choose to buy it, preserve it, live in it, and turn it into a guest house. They also bought several other historic houses and moved them onto the property to use as rented bungalows.
There is a sugar mill ruins on the property, but it is rather small and this is because the house was built before sugar was introduced as a crop. Originally, tobacco, indigo, ginger, and nutmeg were grown in the fields.
Another cool thing built here was a filtration system for the drinking water. Right next to the cistern there is a limestone block that has a bowl carved in the top of it. The bowl is filled with water and left to percolate through the limestone block and fill a jug under the stone and presto, clean water. How cool is that?
The Hermitage House ended up being both of ours favorite thing to see on Nevis as you can read in Melek’s previous blog.