Built in 1881 by George Steibel, Jamaica's first black millionaire, Devon House, Jamaica is a regal monument to Jamaican artisanship. It also bears testimony to the fact that humble beginnings and overwhelming setbacks can be overcome.
Born to a Jamaican housekeeper and a German Jew in the 1820's, young George did not have things easy. Leaving school at the tender age of 14, he became a carpenter's apprentice. He was a natural at carpentry and at age 19 got involved in the reconstruction of the famous Ferry Inn.
With financial help from his father, George bought a ship and started a cargo business. He very soon had three ships and a booming business trading with other West Indian islands. Being a very entrepreneurial young man, he soon realized that gun running to rebel slaves in Cuba could be rather lucrative. Unfortunately his luck soon ran out and after doing a stint in a Cuban jail, he decided that the straight and narrow would after all be the safer road to take.
In 1851 he married the love of his life, Magdalene Baker, daughter of a Moravian Missionary. They soon had a son and daughter and life was good. That was until his ships sank off the coast of Venezuela, with George being on board. Fortunately, he had the foresight to tie his money belt around his waist and was able to make a new start in a strange new country. For 15 years George peddled and started amassing a fortune by buying gold and selling it in Caracas.
Unbelievably wealthy, he returned to Jamaica in 1873. However, with all the good there was some sad too. His son had died of an unknown illness while he was away. Soon after his daughter married Richard Hill Jackson, a prominent young solicitor, George decided to have his dream house built. Calling in the help of builder Charles P. Lazarus, Devon House was born in Kingston, Jamaica.
George lived there with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren for what must have been the happiest years of his life. Both George and Magdalene enjoyed entertaining and Devon House was often filled with guests having the time of their lives.
Devon House, Jamaica nearly suffered the indignity of being turned into condominiums by a developer. Fortunately the then Minister of Development and Welfare, Edward Seaga, had the foresight and power to prevent what would have been a major disaster. He made sure that Devon House was saved and preserved as a historical landmark for posterity.
Words cannot do justice to Devon House and its entire magnificent splendor. From Palm Hall to the Grand Ballroom, which still has the original English crystal chandelier bought by George, as well as the original ceiling done in Wedgwood style, Devon House, Jamaica can only be appropriately appreciated when seeing it with your own eyes.
Visitors can enjoy a tour to Devon House and enjoy a delicious meal and a do bit of shopping at one of the splendid crafts and souvenir shops. Devon House provides a pleasant experience with its luscious lawns, and caters for many functions. You might not be lucky enough to attend a function there, but a visit to Devon House, Jamaica will nevertheless leave you with a warm, happy feeling... much like in the time of George and Magdalene.