St Catherine is the third largest parish in Jamaica with an area of 1192.4 square kilometres (460.4 square miles). It is located in the southern section of the island. The south of the parish is very flat except for the Hellshire Hills near the coast. The central and northern sections are very mountainous. The northern border is on Mount Diablo which crosses over into St Ann. The highest point on that border is 686 metres (2,700 feet).
The plain is approximately 57.000 acres and occupies the southern part of the Rio Cobre basin. The Rio Cobre is the only river which runs along the southern plain. Entering from the Linstead basin it runs for 7.2 kilometres (4.5 miles) through the Rio Cobre gorge, the sides of which rise some 700 feet then turns southwest and enters the sea at passage Fort in Kingston Harbour. The river provides water to irrigate approximately 18,000 acres on the plain and furnishes some of the electrical power for Spanish Town, Linstead, Riversdale, Old Harbour and urban sections of Kingston and St Andrew.
The main wetland areas which dominate the plain are the Hellshire/Cabaritta swamp, The Great Salt Pond and the Hunts Bay Dawkins Pond between Kingston and St Catherine.
Mineral deposits found in the parish include bauxite, copper, limestone, commercial marble, clay, sand and gravel. Many types of limestone are found here. The parish has 44 caves and one of the longest penetrable caves in the island is St Clair near Polly Ground. In the rainy season it has water, but it is usually dry and the eastern outlet is known as Lemon Ridge Cave.
The first Spanish settlement in Jamaica was at Seville, now a part of St Ann's Bay. It proved unsuitable and soon after the island Treasurer Pedro de Mazuela recommended the site which later became Santiago (or St Jago) de la Vega. The parish was formed in 1534 and was named after Queen Katherine of Portugal, the wife of King Charles 11. Sugar cultivation began even before the capital was transferred there in 1524 near to Mazuela's sugar mill. Sugar plantations were soon established. A silk spinning industry was also established and the Spaniards planted mulberry trees to support this. Life was threatened from time to time by raids from English pirates. The Inquisition was also here and caused the recall of a Spanish Governor who was eventually reinstated. In 1655 the English captured Jamaica from the Spaniards who kept up guerrilla tactics for five years until they eventually abandoned efforts to recapture the island.
The English renamed the town Spanish Town and kept it as the administrative capital of the island. For over two centuries it prospered. During the 'dead season' on the sugar estates (October to Christmas) planters and their families from all over Jamaica would converge on Spanish Town. In addition to the state church there were Jewish synagogues. There were taverns, theatres, a slave market and the prison which still stands today. People like Admiral Rodney whose statue stands in the square, and Captain Bligh who brought the breadfruit and other plants to Jamaica knew Spanish Town. The Georgian Square at the centre of the town is reputedly the first one built in the western hemisphere on foundations laid by the Spaniards. Today only the Rodney Memorial and the building that used to House the Assembly remain. Kings House is merely a façade and the Courthouse has been destroyed by fire.
From as early as 1755 lobbyists from Kingston wanted the capital transferred there. It was not until 1872, however, that this was done officially by the Governor Sir John Peter Grant. The boundaries of the present parish were established in 1867 when the number of parishes was reduced from 22 to 14. St Catherine was expanded to include the former parishes of St Thomas in the Vale, St John, and St Dorothy.
Today St Catherine is next only to Kingston as an industrial centre. Two of the eight remaining sugar factories Bernard Lodge and Worthy Park are in the parish. Port Esquivel is a modern deep-water port for the export of bauxite and domestic cargo. Portmore, the largest urban community n the Caribbean arose out of the rapid population growth in Jamaica. It is called in local parlance the 'Twin City'.
Because of its large fertile basin the parish is said to have the greatest agricultural potential in the island.
Major Industries/Sources of Employment
Agriculture: This remains a major source of employment. There is a substantial number of small farmers who practise mixed farming - domestic and commercial crops which include bananas, coconuts pineapple, citrus, pumpkins, pepper, coffee and calaloo. Larger properties produce mainly sugar cane, bananas and citrus.
Dairy farms: There are several dairy farms in the parish. One of these is a one-thousand-acre farm in Old Harbour which is a model for the West Indies.
Fish farms: The Salt Ponds District between Spanish Town, Port Henderson and Passage Fort is noted for the fine fish especially calipera taken from the Hanson and Dawkins Salt Ponds in particular. Present fish sanctuaries within the parish are Galleon Harbour, Coquar Bay and Manatee Bay.
Industries: As an industrial centre St Catherine is only second to Kingston and St Andrew. Alcan has a plant and offices near to Ewarton and is one of the biggest employers in the parish. The largest salt producing plant in the Caribbean is in Spanish Town. Jamaica Milk Products, an affiliate of the Nestles organization, has a factory in Bog Walk. A food processing plant is also there. Old Harbour has the largest power plant in the island and several heavy industrial factories. Twickenham Park near Spanish Town is another industrial estate with mainly light industries including cigarettes, carpets, batteries, plastic items, medical and pharmaceutical products. Sulphuric acid used in the production of bauxite is also produced in the parish Worthy Park and Bernard Lodge are two of the eight remaining sugar factories in Jamaica.
Major Historical/Cultural/Recreational/Ecological Sites
Mystery surrounds this ruin situated 2.4 kilometres northwest of Old Harbour. It is believed that John Colbeck who came to Jamaica with the army of Penn and Venables in 1655 built it. It is a huge three-storey structure with towers at each of its four corners. No one knows if the building was completed and occupied. John Colbeck became an Assemblyman for St Catherine. He died in 1682.
Old Iron Bridge
This bridge built in 1801 is one of the oldest of its type in the Western Hemisphere and the only surviving one. It was built on a cut stone foundation dating back to 1675. The span was made of cast iron prefabricated at Colebrookdale in England. Efforts are currently being made to repair the foundation which is being eroded, as well as the bridge which can now only be used by cyclists and pedestrians.
Mountain River Cave
The road from Spanish Town to Guanaboa Vale leads five miles north to Mountain River Cave. Guides will lead you for a mile to the entrance protected by a grill gate. Inside are about 200 Arawak petroglyphs painted in black on the walls and ceiling. There are frogs, turtles, human forms and abstract designs, many of which date back 1,300 years.
The Rio Cobre River and Gorge
This river is one of the largest in the island. It sinks at a place called River sink at Worthy park and runs underground for five kilometres (three miles), then surfaces at River Head Grand Cave in St Thomas-in-the-Vale. Before it enters the gorge it is joined by a number of tributaries, the Thomas River, the Rio D'Oro and the Rio Pedro. The sides of the gorge reach 700 feet in some places.
A road was first opened through the gorge in about 1770. The flat bridge was originally constructed of logs which were washed away in a flood. The present bridge was built and it has withstood countless floods. A marker there shows where the water rose to 25 feet above the bridge in 1933. Boulders still fall into the road and river after heavy rains though not as frequently as before. The longest train tunnel emerges on the bank of the river, opposite the road near to Bog Walk. On the plain the river has changed course many times entering the sea a various time at Galleon Bay near old Harbour, Great Salt Pond, south of Port Henderson and Passage Fort and now in Kingston Harbour. It provides irrigation for approximately 18,000 acres on the plains.
In 1997 this was the name given to the Spanish Town Square or Parade. This is the only Georgian Square in Jamaica. Kings House and the House of Assembly on the west and east sides respectively were erected in 1762. The Courthouse was built in 1819 and used as a chapel and armory with the Town Hall upstairs. The Rodney Memorial was erected later by the Jamaica House of Assembly to commemorate his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saints fought off the coast of Jamaica on April 12 1782. The sculptor was John Bacon, reputedly the leading English sculptor at the time. It weighs over 200 tons. It remains intact although a hand was lost when it ws taken to Kingston in the feud over the removal of the capital. Kings House was destroyed by fire in 1925. Only the façade and stables remained. The stables were converted into a folk museum now called Jamaican People Museum of Crafts and Technology. The building to the south which was used as the courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1986. The old House of Assembly building houses the Parish Council. The garden in the center of the square is well kept and has stately royal palm trees. It is hoped that in the not too distant future this beautiful square will be restored.
St James Cathedral
This is the Anglican Cathedral which also serves as the Parish Church for St Catherine. It stands on the site of the Chapel of the Red Cross built around 1525 and which was one of the first Spanish (Roman Catholic) churches to be built in the Americas. When the English captured Jamaica they destroyed the church and built the Anglican Parish Church of St Catherine on the same site with materials from the previous building. It has been badly damaged by hurricane and earthquake. In 1843 it became the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese in honour of the patron saint St James. The present building was restored in 1908 after it was badly damaged in the 1907 earthquake. The Baptism and Marriage Registers date from 1668, and the burial records from 1671. They are the oldest Anglican records in the island. The tablets and tombstones tell an interesting part of the history of the island.
White Marl Arawak Museum
This museum built in the shape of an Arawak hut is located on the site of an Arawak village. This small museum faithfully records the contribution made by the Arawaks to Jamaican culture as well as their way of life. There are hunting n fishing implements, jewelry, carvings and pottery. A reconstructed Arawak village is behind the museum further up the hill. The village was on the banks of the river now called the Rio Cobre but the river has changed course and now flows a few kilometres east of the museum.