The lure of Port Antonio, Jamaica has long been in its natural beauty. It was poetess Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855-1919) who described the town as the 'most exquisite port on earth.'
Port Antonio (or "Porty" as it is affectionately called by locals) is located on the northeastern coast of the island and is best known for sites such as the Blue Lagoon, Navy Island, the twin harbors... and several Edenic beaches, waterfalls and even caves nearby. "Porty" is neatly nestled between the Blue Mountains (Jamaica's highest mountain range) and the Caribbean Sea making it Jamaica's wettest coastal region. (No wonder there is year round verdant vegetation!)
The remains of the British fort of Fort George can be found on the grounds of the Titchfield High School. This fort was built in 1729 in order to protect the town of Port Antonio from invasion by the Spanish. At present the only parts of the fort that remain to be seen are a few cannons, the defense walls and the ammunition house.
Opposite the town of Port Antonio is Navy Island, named after the British naval base which was set up at the same time as Fort George. The island also served as a place to service the British ships visiting Port Antonio, Jamaica during the 18th century.
There was not a great deal of activity in and around Port Antonio, Jamaica throughout the balance of the 18th century and during much of the early 19th century... once the power of the Spanish in the Caribbean was reduced.
Porty was simply a sleepy coastal town with one of the most beautiful harbours in the Caribbean. It was not until 1880 when Lorenzo Dow Baker began the expansion of the banana trade that Port Antonio gained prominence. At one time, shipping entering and leaving the harbor was greater than that experienced by the busy English port of Liverpool!
It is said that the beginning of the tourist attraction to Port Antonio, Jamaica was when Baker not only promoted the banana trade... but... helped to excite wealthy and influential Americans about the possibilities of Port Antonio as a tourist destination.
Early in the 20th century, there were a number of well known people who built houses or estates near Port Antonio... some as permanent residences and others as vacation homes.
Folly Mansion, for example, was built by Alfred Mitchell for himself and his wife Anne Tiffany. The Roman style villa consisting of 60 rooms had some astounding conveniences given the period in which it was built and the location.
For example, a wind powered generator kept an indoor swimming pool supplied with seawater. The mansion had its own power station and water supply. After the death of Mitchell in 1911, the Tiffany heiress lived at the mansion location near Port Antonio until the outbreak of World War I when she returned to the United States. The mansion and its nearby lighthouse are popular with tourists and photographers arriving from nearby Port Antonio for fashion shoots, music videos and photo ops.
After World War I, it was not uncommon to see yachts berthed in Port Antonio harbour that belonged to the rich and famous of that age. Among the who's who were J.P. Morgan (then world's wealthiest man)... newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst... Clara Gordon Bow (1920's star of silent films)... and the legendary lover-and-actor, Errol Flynn.
Actually, in 1946, the yacht Zacca, owned by Errol Flynn, washed ashore near Port Antonio, Jamaica during a storm. Later he purchased the entire Navy Island and turned it into a resort area for movie stars, royalty and other celebrities. Navy Island also was a popular location for filming Hollywood movies during the 1940s and 1950s... especially those which had tropical or paradise settings such as "Cocktail" and "Club Paradise".
If getting away from tourists and the hustle and bustle of tourist towns appeals to you, then Port Antonio is the obvious vacation destination in Jamaica. The only time of year there might be bit more action is during the International Marlin Tournament in October.
One thing's for sure: For now you won't find any of the large resorts or high-rise buildings that attract masses of tourists. However, you'll still have a choice of luxury hotels and villas... and you'll also find accommodation in intimate little hotels and simple guest houses.
So, what are you waiting for?
Come... experience... Port Antonio, Jamaica!
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