Point of Interest

Presidents Palace

Dominica / Americas

Presidents Palace is a large, grand building set in its own grounds, next to the House of Assembly, and opposite Fort Young.  Originally built in 1811, it was the home of the Governor from 1840 to 1979.  The present building was rebuilt after its destruction by arsonists in 1979.  It is used for state receptions, events arranged by community groups and there are upstairs apartments used as accommodation for visiting dignitaries.

The House of Assembly is a handsome late Georgian colonial building, also constructed in 1811, and renovated in the late 1980s.  The island legislature has met on this site since 1765.

The original Government House appeared bleak when Sir Hesketh Bell arrived there in 1899:

My first impression of Government House was lamentable … The house was built about seventy years ago, of solid grey stone, all on one floor raised well above the surrounding ground.  It is so substantial that I should think it would stand even the worst hurricane.  The rooms are lofty but not numerous.  A very large drawing-room, scantily furnished, and almost equally big dining-room, four or five bedrooms and a bit of an entrance hall.  The only bathroom is under my bedroom, in an obscure cellar, and the bath is a cement construction, about five feet deep, which looks like a medieval tomb and might harbour scores of scorpions and centipedes.  

The next day he looked out across the five acres of grounds and gardens:

What a scene of beauty!   The threatened storm was evidently a false alarm, and the atmosphere this morning, is marvellously clear and bright.  The sky is as blue as that of Italy, and there is a crisp freshness in the air that is wonderful for the tropics.  Just under my window, there is a large shrub full of little red and yellow flowers, shaped like a mandarin’s hat, and a lot of tiny humming-birds, just like winged jewels, are darting excitedly around sucking the nectar out of the blossoms.

The administrator found the grounds full of fine trees and magnificent palms.  There were fields of guinea-grass for ponies, and highly coloured crotons, brilliant cannas and roses in the gardens.  These were cared for by a gang of prisoners, supervised by a gardener. 

On the other side of the road is Dominica’s Carnegie Library, Sir Hesketh’s dream child, sadly wrecked in the hurricane of 2017.   He was keen to create a completely free library for the island.  

There had been a Literacy Society in Dominica as early as 1821, set up by a coloured doctor, Jean Baptiste Louis.  The Roseau Juvenile Literacy Association was established in 1828, by some young merchants.  In 1832 Charles Augustus Fillian set up the Dominica Public Circulating Library and in 1847 the Dominica Reading Room and Library was established.  Two years later the Young Men’s Literary Association was organized.  Then in 1872, the Dominican newspaper lobbied the Government to take over the Reading Room and develop it as a public library.

Sir Hesketh also inspired the Victoria Memorial Library, which was built in 1901 and again wrecked in the hurricane of 2017.  Those who used it were charged a penny to enter it.  He raised a subscription for a portrait of Queen Victoria (now in the museum).  £100 was raised, which impressed the Administrator as the Dominica community was so small.  The portrait was a replica of the Angeli in the National Portrait Gallery in London, painted specially by a distinguished artist.

When the Victoria Library was found to be too small, Administrator Bell petitioned for funds from the American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie in 1904 and in April 1905 these were granted.  ‘He has promised to give us £1,500 if the Government will give a site and provide for upkeep.’  A site was found in the public gardens overlooking the sea, next to the smaller library.  Bell went on to personally design the library – a bungalow with a broad verandah around it, painted white and pearl grey in the midst of red and gold blossoms on the surrounding trees.  It was opened in April 1906.  At first, it consisted mainly of newspapers and periodicals.  Since 1940 Dominicans have been able to borrow books for free.  

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