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The Folly Ruins
 Portland, Jamaica

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Folly Ruins - PortlandFolly Ruins - Portland

by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer

The Folly Ruins on Jamaica's north coast are a crumbling example of the strength of following your dreams. Visitors continue to flock to this sleepy region of the island because of its abandoned mansion-house on a private peninsula close to Port Antonio.

The history of Folly Mansion is a Jamaican tale, ranging from affluent American explorers to dancehall performers.

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Folly Ruins Entrance - PortlandFolly Ruins Entrance - Portland

There are quite a few tales surrounding folly ruins, here’s one of the most popular:

Myth

According to traditional tales, a wealthy American built the Folly Mansion, formerly the most luxurious home in Jamaica, to dazzle his sweetheart and persuade her to migrate to Jamaica with him.

In his haste to construct the mansion for her, he used cement that had been blended with salt water as opposed to fresh water, which left the building structurally unstable.

The closest available water supply was the sea because the property overlooks it. The mansion had already begun to fall apart by the time his wife arrived. What a foolishness! she screamed before leaving for America and never coming back.

The residence was left to burn to the ground when the upset spouse fled the scene. It is also said that the Folly Ruins fell apart as a visible sign of the rift between the couple. 

But because folly ruin is a real place, there has to be a true story behind it right? Well here’s the truth:

Facts

While the fictitious tale of how folly ruins came into existence might be a little melodramatic, it does bear a little of the truth, because one could view the true story about folly ruins as a tale of love. You see back then Folly Point was a tranquil, undeveloped outcrop on this remote British colony in 1904.

When you turn around, the gorgeous Blue Mountains would dominate the skyline. The unbroken views of the Caribbean Sea are mesmerizing. For wealthier visitors looking for some winter sun, the neighbourhood Titchfield Hotel was the place to go.

One man, in particular, Alfred Mitchell of Connecticut, fell in love with the area and decided to construct a winter residence for himself and his wife Annie.

The pricey project produced a grand mansion residence with an indoor saltwater pool, a personal power plant, and a cupola chamber for taking in the view. The area was developed as a tropical garden, which flourished in Jamaica's wettest parish of Portland. 

The couple built their house on land they bought at Folly Point after falling in love with Port Antonio. The magnificent home, which was built in the form of a Roman villa and had 60 rooms distributed over two storeys, was named after the neighbourhood where it was located.

It had a wind-powered generator to pump seawater into an indoor swimming pool, its own power plant, a separate water reservoir, a sauna, stables, and a menagerie. It was well-equipped for its day, even compared to today’s homes it would still be considered top of the line.

In addition to imported peacocks and monkeys, they kept a wide variety of creatures. The adjoining Pellew Island, a little cay in Jamaica, which has since been renamed Monkey Island, was eventually granted to the monkeys free reign.

Folly Ruins Interior - PortlandFolly Ruins Interior - Portland

Mitchell, however, sadly passed away six years after it was finished, and his wife sold the house and left two years later. 

Only 12 years after it was completed, the property was abandoned due to the new owners' short-term occupancy. When renowned actor Errol Flynn thought about purchasing the property, there was a temporary respite. But by that time, the Jamaican government had already acquired the land and had just proposed a lease.

Under government control, the long slide toward destruction began. As with so many of Jamaica's older mansions, neglect and thievery sped up mother nature's process. The wooden flooring was long gone by 1935, and the roof had caved in as a result of looting the supporting structure.

It is still believed by some that the structure was destroyed because salt water was used in the concrete. There is no proof of this, and the only part of the building that is still standing is the concrete component.

Unfortunately, folly ruins aren’t what they used to be, graffiti's and lack of care have definitely depreciated its appeal. Folly Ruins still does provide an atmospheric window into the past.

Although the area is now fenced off for safety reasons, you can still go there to take in the sight of what once must have been a lovely estate.

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References & Sources For Folly Ruins

  1. The Story of Folly Ruins, Jamaica, https://theculturetrip.com/caribbean/jamaica/articles/the-story-of-folly-ruins-jamaica/
  2. Folly Ruins & Lighthouse, Portland – Adventures from Elle, https://adventuresfromelle.com/2022/02/07/folly-portland/
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