Some long forgotten underground tunnels had been rediscovered in The Garrison area.
Two Fridays ago, the local press was invited for a press briefing and a ground breaking ceremony to officially open the Garrison Tunnel Project.
Not wanting to wait for the official opening (for public viewing) which is scheduled for August, I decided it would be nice to tag along for a photo op for my blog.
The tunnel entrance is located to the right of the car park entrance of George Washington House.
Behind the security barricades was the beginning of a long-hidden tunnel system which features miles of networking shafts.
The almost forgotten tunnels had practically disappeared into "folklore" but old timers were telling their stories handed down through generations....the tunnels were secret passageways that may have been used as escape routes.
Located roughly 12-17 ft beneath the historic Garrison area they were accidentally rediscovered during the restoration of George Washington House in June 2011.
The tunnels are over 150 years old, and were originally built around the1820's during the British military period on the island, and may have been utilized to drain the once marshy Garrison Savannah, moving storm water out to sea, (even though they don't follow drainage principles)...they may have also served as secret escape routes for soldiers.
After a half hour presentation in the cinema of George Washington House followed by several questions and many revealing answers, it was time to visit the entrance that was being prepared for the public.
The Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc, is spearheading this project in conjunction with the Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc, and is largely funded by the Tourism Development Corporation.
The project is estimated to cost Bds$100,000.00 (US$50,000.00).
Peter Stevens, Vice President of the Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc., with Stephen Lashley, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth.
The excavated area which will become the public entrance....some of the steps are already installed for this purpose.
Minister Lashley descending the ladder to explore the tunnel for himself.
A closer look at the limestone coral bedrock which makes up the island.
The ground breaking ceremony.
Fourteen feet below, and with pickaxe in hand, Minister Lashley "opens" the tunnel.
And in he goes.
This portion of the tunnel travels all the way across the car park.
It travels 207 feet across the car park, and the exit shaft is just outside of the Visitor's Centre via a secure gated enclosure.
It must be noted however that this particular tunnel under George Washington House runs approximately 3,200 feet in its entirety.
Long forgotten passageways from the past.Most of the tunnels are two feet wide and range from 8 feet to 12 feet tall....an amazing construction.
Accurately built as a "non-maintenance construction" was how the engineer on the project described the tunnels.
Miles and miles of networking tunnels lined with quarried blocks which form perfect arches for the roofs all built by hand...a spectacular engineering feat for the day, considering there were no power tools.
At the press conference.Peter Stevens, Vice President of the Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc., Dr. Karl Watson, Stephen Lashley, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, and an officer from the Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc.
Not pictured is James Blades, President of the Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium.
As further exploration continues, more tunnels, T-junctions and more access points have been discovered under the Garrison Savannah.
On the southern side of the Garrison Savannah, the tunnels create a central hub in a bicycle spoke pattern with five tunnels which radiate outwards to several access points like the Barbados Defence Force's St.Ann's Fort, some seem to travel as far as Dalkeith Hill and even maybe to the gully behind George Washington House and perhaps even to outlying caves.
Apparently, the bicycle spoke pattern of the tunnels under the Garrison Savannah, can be clearly seen during the dry season if looked at closely.
It's a well laid out network with tunnels running to beach exits like Pebbles Beach, Pavilion Court, Needhams Point and Coconut Court Hotel.
As the explorers continue with this project they are finding some of the tunnels silted with about 3 - 4 feet of silt, some closed off with iron grates, some collapsed areas and some totally blocked doorways that may lead to caves in the area.
There are stories of children long ago getting lost in the caves so it is believed that may be the reason for the closed off areas.
More exploration is ongoing but in order to do so, more passageways and access points would require permission from property owners in the area.
At present the tunnels are not open to the public, but the explored section is outfitted at strategic points with lighting and live feed cameras and live audio commentary to the cinema at George Washington House.
Health and safety requirements are still being worked out and after all inspections have been carried out, guided tours will be available after the official opening to the public in August 2014.
Hopefully in the future there will be tram rides into the tunnels, of which there is still 7,500 feet of unexplored and inaccessible tunnels.
It's so very exciting, and I can't wait for the entire network to be "rediscovered."
These tunnels are definitely a reconnection with our colourful past.....wonder what else will be discovered.
Here are some other incredible photos of these tunnels.
The timeline project photos are here.