Folly Mansion

Moon Author's Review

Just east of Port Antonio along Alan Avenue, a left onto a dirt road before the cricket pitch follows the edge of East Harbour out to Folly Point Lighthouse. A right turn after the cricket pitch along a grassy vehicle track through low-lying scrub forest leads to Folly Mansion, which is an unmanaged attraction (free and always accessible) on government-owned land. Folly was for a few years after its construction the most ostentatious building in Jamaica, before it started to crumble. Built by Connecticut millionaire Alfred Mitchell in 1905, the mansion had 60 rooms and an indoor swimming pool and was made almost entirely of cement. Apparently the cement was mixed with saltwater, which proved a bad combination. The salt not only weakened the cement but rusted the steel framework, causing almost immediate deterioration. Nonetheless, Mitchell lived in the mansion with his wife, a Tiffany heiress, and their family on and off until his death in 1912, and it wasn’t until 1936 that the house was abandoned. On the waterfront in front of the pillared mansion is the humble little Folly Beach, which faces small Wood Island, where Mitchell is said to have kept monkeys and other exotic animals. The beach isn’t bad for a swim, but care should be taken as the sea floor is not even and parts are covered with sharp reef. The area is known to have a strong current at times.

The name "Folly" predates Mitchell and his ill-fated mansion, as made clear by Folly Point Lighthouse, which was built and named in 1888. Apparently the name refers to Baptist minister James Service, who once owned the property, having acquired it piece by piece. For this he was lauded with a playful expression extolling his frugal ways, which were not, in fact, based in folly. Many legends surround the mansion, the most popular story being that the mansion was built as a wedding gift, but the bride ran off in tears when her dream home began to crumble as soon as she was carried across the threshold.

Folly Point Lighthouse stands on a jut extending along the windward shore of East Harbour. The lighthouse is not generally open to the public, but the property manager is known to let visitors in on occasion. A track usually too rutted and muddy for a vehicle runs along the water’s edge between the lighthouse and the mansion.


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