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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
From being the birthplace of a National Hero to being a hub for railway activity in Jamaica, Catadupa in southern St. James is a community filled with history!
Catadupa is a rural community in southern St. James. We believe it is a hidden gem filled with history and heritage from as far back as slavery. As a matter of fact, one of our National Heroes, The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe, was born on one of two estates that made up what is now the community of Catadupa. He was born on the Croydon plantation, which is now an attraction and the other was the Lapland Property.
When Sam Sharpe started the rebellion, he walked from Montego Bay, through Catadupa and up through “Bird Track” to Kensington estate to start the fire.
So, annually, the Benevolent Society of Catadupa has a walk up to Kensington in honour of Sam Sharpe’s journey, sacrifice and contribution to the freedom of the enslaved people of Jamaica.
With a torch, during the Christmas period, the members of the community walk to Montego Bay, back to Catadupa and up to Kensington, the same journey Sam Sharpe took. There have been efforts made to develop the track to make it easier to traverse, but a lack of funds thwarted the plans of the association.
We spoke with Mr. Yohan, Cata Doc and Mr. Campbell who all shared their experiences living in Catadupa before, and sadly, after the railway station was closed in 1992.
Mr. Yohan, who works for the Railway Corporation had a lot of insightful information to share.
With the trains gearing up to make a comeback, we had to talk about Catadupa which was once the hub of activities surrounding the railway stations.
Trains were passing through from Montego Bay, Kingston and other parishes such as St. Elizabeth. On the trip, Catadupa was a major stop, especially for the tourists on the Governor’s Coach. This special train was more comfortable and spacious than the others and was built for tourists who wished to visit the countryside and learn about the crops and culture of rural communities.
The train left Montego Bay for Catadupa at 10 am. They would get to Catadupa, tour a small section of the community, purchase fruits and take measurements for garments that they would collect on their way back. The train would then leave Catadupa at 11:15 am and head to Anchovy, Ipswich and a lunch stop at Maggotty, St. Elizabeth.
Then, they would return to Catadupa at 3:30 pm. Here, they would collect their newly made clothes and for additional orders, they would leave their hotel number to have it delivered or take the train up the next day to collect it themselves.
But this was not the only train, it was one of 6 that would pass daily. Mr. Yohan, who was the porter at the train station, says there would be a morning train heading up from Montego Bay and heading into Kingston, then there would be the school train.
Usually, there would also be two other tourist trains one heading to Clarendon Park and the other heading to St. Leonard’s for the Hilton Holiday Tour. There would also be a passenger train for persons returning from Montego Bay.
At this time, trains were the main means of transport and cars and buses were mainly for personal use and not to operate taxis.
For goods and large items, they would travel on the freight train which was able to bring 37 tons of goods in each wagon. Because of the number of items that may be unloaded at a time, the freight train had its own line which could accommodate up to 15 wagons at once. One of the most popular items was animal feeding, as livestock farming is quite popular in Catadupa. But the train was also used for other purposes including, carrying prisoners, cars, horses, tractors and blood for the hospitals on the Western side of Jamaica from the blood bank in Kingston.
The railway station building still stands, although it does not quite resemble what it looked like in its heyday.
The ticket and waiting room were at the front of the building where you’d buy your pass for the train at the ticket window and then, well, … wait on your train to arrive. This area is now used as Ms Salkie’s shop.
First-class is not only found on aeroplanes, they are on trains too. And on this particular train, first-class had its own restroom which is located to the side of the building.
Because Catadupa has its own source of water, the train is also refilled here for use in the restroom on board as well as the engine.
The food market and butcher stall were once very popular for both buyers and sellers who would come over from other communities. Now it has been repurposed for the community centre.
This was especially important during the pandemic as children who did not have access to the internet at home would come to this location to have classes. The renovations were spearheaded by Pastor Gordon of the Anglican church in the community as well as the Community Development Committee as well. It was also Mr. Gordon who invited us and found the very knowledgeable community members who were able to divulge all the information on this historic community.
In the newly converted community centre, Cata Doc has his recycling initiative where he, according to him, makes everything except people. His inventions are truly astounding as well. From vases to toy vehicles which I must add, are movable and made entirely from recycled products. He also helps out with class projects and we could see a bag he made from all recycled products for a student at the nearby school.
Remember the dam we talked about before, Mr. Campbell took us to see it. The dam supplies not only Catadupa but many surrounding communities and nearby Croydon in the Mountains, it runs from a spring in the hills which has never gone dry. Each day, water trucks make several trips from other communities to truck water to those who require it.
Well, as you will come to realize, no trip to Catadupa is complete without a trip to Rock Farm, for some of Mr. Atkinson’s now world-famous chocolate tea and Rock Cakes.
Mr. Gordon, Mr. Yohan, Cata Doc, and Mr. Campbell have all been instrumental in the development of the community and they, along with the residents, anticipate the reopening of the railway station. This will bring great economic opportunities and add to its esteemed history. They commend the members of the community for their ability to work together for the betterment of their community.
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