One of the most impressive historical sights in the central highlands, the 18th-century Marshall’s Pen great house has a story that manages to encapsulate the sweep of Jamaican history from Taíno times through colonialism to abolition, independence and the modern day. The private home of Jamaica's leading ornithologist and environmental scientist, Ann Haynes-Sutton, it’s a great spot to watch birds. Visits are by prior appointment for groups of six. Take Oriole Close off Hwy A2, then the Mike Town/Somerset Rd.
Taíno people once inhabited nearby grounds, and archaeological digs still turn up their artifacts. The stone-and-timber great house itself, built in 1795, dates back to the Earl of Balcarres, the one-time Governor of Jamaica. Throughout its history the home has been a coffee plantation and cattle-breeding property (hence Marshall’s ‘Pen’). The present-day owner of the 120-hectare grounds runs birding tours. More than 100 species have been recorded on the property itself, including 25 of the 30 species endemic to Jamaica, and it may be possible for birders to organise a stay here.
The exterior of the building, all cut-stone and louvred windows surrounded by landscaped gardens, is understated compared to the arresting interior – a honeycomb of wood-paneled rooms brimming with antiques, leather-bound books, Taíno artifacts, historical and original artwork and lots of other museum-quality pieces, many from Japan and China. Ann runs hour-long tours of the house with advance notice.
The estate entrance – an unmarked stone gateway painted red – is about 600m along the Mike Town/Somerset Rd. The unpaved drive is bumpy but passable.