Antigua might only be a 108 square miles but there are thirty (30) or more historical sites around the island that are worth seeing at least once. There are just a few of the more famous ones.
Betty’s Hope: is a sugar plantation site where one of the two sugar mill towers has been fully restored with sails. There is a small interpretation centre, this heritage landmark is worth a visit. Betty’s Hope was one of the earliest sugar plantations, dating to 1651. In 1990, restoration began. Today about 112 sugar mill towers still dot the countryside of this independent nation, reminding us of the days of slavery under ‘King Sugar’.
Clarence House: this Georgian country house was built for the Commissioner of the Dockyard in 1806. At the present time, it is not open to the public as it is being rebuilt after a recent hurricane, but the view of English Harbour and the Dockyard is superb. From about 1820 it became to be known as Clarence House. The house was then being used by the Governor of the Leeward Islands as his country residence.
The Museum of Antigua & Barbuda: housed in the old Courthouse of 1749, this small but fascinating museum starts the island’s story long before Columbus “discovered” the island naming it after a famous miracle-working virgin, Santa Maria la Antigua, whose statue graces Seville Cathedral.
Fort Barrington: is located at the northern beach side of Deep Bay, on an area called Goat Hill. This imposing signal station reported ships’ movements to Rat Island via flag and light signals. The ruins are of a fort that saw the most action in Antigua’s history. It was captured by the French in 1666 and returned to England the following year, when it was named after Admiral Barrington who had captured St. Lucia from the French the year before. The present fortifactions were building 1779, and from this prominent hill excellent sightings of St. Kitts and Nevis are possible against the backdrop of stunning sunsets.
Fort Berkeley: is placed on the peninsula forming the west entrance to English Harbour. It was started in 1704, or 21 years before the Dockyard was built. Its defences were later extended in the 1740’s. In this strategic position, the fort commanded the entrance to the anchorage, where naval captains careened their ships and sheltered from hurricanes.
In 1989, the building was re-roofed by the National Park as a pilot restoration-training project funded by Canada. The restoration is accurate to the point that the stonework shows smaller stones were used to extend the wall height. In 1751, the roof had been blown off by a hurricane. Therefore, added height to the walls was needed to accommodate extra beams to strengthen the roof against future hurricanes. The restored mechanics of the inside structure demonstrates great strength, and it certainly survived the great hurricane ‘Luis’, experienced in 1995.
Fort James: is a fort which is the entrance to the Harbour in St. John’s. It was built in 1706 to guard St. John’s Harbour and it is one of the many forts that was built by the British in the 18th century.
This is the only fort in Antigua where the original ten great guns are still in place. They date to George III’s reign and survived a scrap iron collection of 1869. Eleven men were required to handle one of these 2.5 ton guns that discharged a shot 1.5 miles distant. There is an inner fort, soon to be restored where an interesting detached kitchen may be entered.
Nelson’s Dockyard: is the only remaining naval dockyard in the world designed to maintain wooden sailing warships of olden times. It started in the year 1725, although it had been used for shelter from the mid-17th century. The first recorded ship at English Harbour, anchored to survive a hurricane, was a yacht. It was a naval ship chartered to the King for the use of his Governor of the Leeward Islands.
The famous British hero of Trafalgar (1805), Horatio Nelson, was here as Senior Captain (27 years old) in 1784. As a zealous Naval Officer, he enforced the Navigation Act, which stated only British ships could trade with British islands. America had become independent, so Nelson severely upset the Antiguan merchants by suppressing their long-standing trade with the former British American colonies. At one time, if he had left his ship (‘Boreas’), he would have been arrested. The merchants were attempting to sue him.
Shirley’s Heights: this is a military complex that is a short distance from the Dockyard. It wasn’t named after the fairer sex, but after Sir Thomas Shirley, the Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defences in 1781. Shirley’s Heights may be divided into four sections: Dow’s Hill, The Ridge and Artillery Quarters, Blockhouse and The Lookout.
Dow’s Hill: visit the 15-minute multimedia show and learn about Antigua’s history, heritage and culture. This interpretation centre was designed and built with Canadian aid in 1992.
The Ridge and Artillery Quarters a Ridge: on which several ruins may be noted, leads to the Heights. The first buildings on the left are the Royal Artillery Gunner’s Barracks along with the Train of Artillery building (now a research centre), built in 1790 for 60 men. After the army left, it became a lunatic asylum.
Blockhouse: this is defined as a place of last refuge. Here is a fine view of the southeast section of Antigua and there are the remains of an Officer’s Quarters and a Powder Magazine.
The Lookout: this high point (about 490 ft.) affords a superb view of English and Falmouth Harbours, the best view in Antigua. Today, it is a Sunday afternoon rendezvous for a sampling of local music and culture. Behind the gun platform is the site of a flagstaff that once sent signals all around Antigua.
St. John’s Cathedral: two St. John’s Anglican Churches have already stood on the site of the present cathedral. The first was built of wood as early as 1681 and was said to be “totally destitute of beauty or comfort”. The second was constructed with English brick about 1720 when the first fell in disrepair and became too small. The church was designed by Mr. Robert Cullen and had a short steeple at its western end. After over a century, the church was elevated to the status of a cathedral when the Diocese of Antigua was created in August 1842.
A violent earthquake severely damaged it in February 1843. Temporary repairs were made and in it Bishop Daniel Davis was enthroned as the first Bishop of Antigua.
Next to the site of the first two churches a new purpose built cathedral was planned and approved by the House of Assembly. The Governor, Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, laid the cornerstone on October 9, 1843 and on October 10, 1847, the Cathedral was opened for divine service. It was consecrated on July 25, 1848.
The Cathedral is dominated by twin towers at the west end and provides a distinct baroque flavour.
The south gate was the main entrance to the Cathedral. On top of its pillars are the lead figures of St. John the Divine and St. John the Baptist.
Devil’s Bridge: a limestone “bridge” sculpted by wave erosion, Devil’s Bridge was (according to legend) the spot where slaves came to commit suicide (the devil had got them). Today it’s a dramatic tableau, lashed by booming Atlantic breakers.