A Moment In History – Black River’s Firsts

black river
The historic Waterloo House

Black River is but a shadow of its former glory in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the town holds great historical value. The exact date of its establishment is not known, but its existence is noted on John Sellers’ 1685 map of Jamaica. Black River was designed by the Leyden brothers of England, three wealthy men who were substantial land proprietors in the area. It became toe capital of St Elizabeth in 1773, replacing Lacovia. The town got its name from the river on whose bank it was established. The Black River got its name from its dark, almost black hue, which was caused by decomposing vegetation on the bed of the river. It is one of Jamaica’s longest rivers, measuring more than 53 metres.

Once a thriving port, where sugar, logwood, rum, pimento and cattle skin were exported, Black River is a town with many historic firsts:

– In 1903, Jamaica’s first motor car – a four-cylinder ‘New Orleans’ made in Twickenham in England – was driven in Black River. It was owned by HW Griffiths of Hodges Pen. Black River was also the first town in Jamaica to have telephone service.

– The Waterloo House, which now operates as a guest house, was also the first private residence in Jamaica and among the first in the western hemisphere to have electricity (1893). The house is believed to have been originally owned by relatives of English playwright William Shakespeare.

– Black River was also the first to have a telephone exchange.

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