By Lindsey Turnbull
In 1976 an article was published in the July edition of the Nor’Wester magazine entitled ‘Into the green heart of Grand Cayman’ written by Clem Thomas. In it, the author describes the area bound by Smith Road, Crewe Road and South Sound as the “green heart of Grand Cayman”. He describes his journey into this green and almost untouched land as follows:
“Drive along South Church Street, which continues as South Sound Road. After about seven minutes you will start seeing the canals on your left just as you are leaving South Sound village. Here, the sea and South Sound lagoon are to the south while the road itself winds through a pleasant young pine forest with occasional patches of mangrove.”
While this description of South Sound might not be recognisable to readers only familiar with present-day South Sound, now home to huge condominium developments interspersed with a dwindling few Caymanian cottages the length of South Sound Road, there is one landmark that was as much a stand-out feature 40 years ago as it is today:
“Continue past the rugby pitch – again on your left and with its unmistakable H-shaped goal posts – until you reach the next canal and track exiting left; in all about ten minutes from the centre of George Town.”
Forty years ago, South Sound appeared to be a haven for wildlife, as the author notes wild pineapple, a Louisiana heron, a higgaty, water lilies, a ‘Donkey’s Eye’ butterfly, aerial roots and mangrove along his South Sound journey.
A special place
Just a few years later, Mary Lawrence wrote a comprehensive piece on South Sound in her walk down memory lane, published in the February 1979 edition of the magazine. In it, she also describes how, leaving the road into George Town at Red Bay, “one is quickly swept into an entirely different atmosphere”. She describes how the road “twists and winds quite near to the water in places through a veritable forest of Australian pines which vie with the hardy sea grape, almond and a host of other local vegetation for supremacy.”
She adds: “Sandy beach areas shaded by the stately pine and carpeted with its fallen needles, offer ideal picnic spots or places just to pull off for a while and take in the surrounding beauty.”
In her article, Ms Lawrence says that building is sparse and strictly on the water side for the first mile or so. She mentions just a few developments along her journey down South Sound, including “gaps hewn out of the young pine forest in the area known as Pirates Cove to accommodate the block of new tennis courts owned by the Cayman Islands Tennis Association and the popular rugby pitch and clubhouse.” She also mentions Caribbean Paradise, which she describes as “a string of ultra-modern villas with commanding views of the coastline”, the newest development in the area. Heading into town, she describes how the “old homes strung out along the road have had many of their gaps filled in, in recent years, as newer homes and developments crowd the area.”
Grand Old House
While many old buildings had been replaced by new in the late Seventies, Ms Lawrence noted that the Grand Old House, which was the former Petra Plantation, “still offers to visitors a touch of old-time grandeur”, a building which is still going strong today. Originally designed as a stately Caribbean Great House, Grand Old House was built by Boston businessman William Henry Law in 1908. An important building for the location, it served as a Sunday school, a hospital for soldiers wounded in World War II, a beauty parlour and a shelter for island residents during storms. In 1969 it was placed into the hands of new owners who turned it into a restaurant when South Sound was no more than a dirt track. Today it’s one of the most popular fine dining establishments in Cayman.
Another landmark that is still very much part of the fabric of South Sound is the South Sound Community Centre. Ms Lawrence describes how, in the late Seventies, the community came together to build a new hall fit for purpose. Nowadays the “new” hall still plays an integral part as a meeting place for local residents to assemble and celebrate.
South Sound is still home to a handful of historically-important dwellings along with Grand Old House, such as the pink, blue and white traditional Cayman home known as McCoy’s Villa that is located on the waterfront on South Church Street, built by Edgar Samuel McCoy around 1870. Original features of this beautiful cabin style home, include hardwood floors, a delicate lacework etched glass panel and wrap around porch (which had been extended over the years.)
21st Century development
Fast forward to the 21st Century and South Sound’s appeal has grown massively, observed by real estate professionals as making an excellent alternative to the most sought-after area of Cayman, that of Seven Mile Beach. It’s now known as the new “Seven Mile”, as inventory in that location has dwindled hugely in the past few years. Now, as Cayman transitions into a new phase of its life with population numbers moving to the mid-60,000s and beyond, developers have seized upon South Sound as one of the quickest developing areas of Grand Cayman.
Luxury developments, such as the 24-unit oceanfront Tides property and the 36-unit, five-storey Fin condominium development on South Church Street, have begun to punctuate the landscape, with many new developments sporting ultra-modern fixtures and fittings, clean lines and contemporary designs.
But while the natural vegetation has made way for construction and development, and the peace and stillness gives way to traffic jams twice a day, the location still manages to hold on to the same community feel of yesteryear, no doubt anchored by the great sporting bastions of the rugby club, the tennis club and the squash club, all of which encourage a feeling of togetherness and unity. South Sound remains a special place in the hearts of many that no amount of development should ever quell.