Falmouth Field Guide

9 King Street

Richard Barrett Waite was a wealthy mason in Falmouth in the 1780s. He owned four enslaved masons, five carpenters, and an additional labor force of 15 men, among his 67 slaves. Documentary evidence suggests that he interacted with, and probably was related to, the powerful Barrett family.1 Waite purchased five lots of land for 70 pounds apiece in Falmouth from Edward Barrett in 1782. Three of those lots stretched the entire block of Lower Harbour Street between King and Queen Streets; the other two were at the corner of King and Rodney Streets.2 Yet, this house was not likely built by Waite. The house at 9 King Street was built in the first half of the nineteenth century, but certainly before 1844, when the parcel was subdivided and Mrs. Mary Garth and A.J. Preston bought the portion occupied by the house.3 This single-story, timber frame house is significant to Falmouth’s architectural tradition as a compact version of a domestic form used in larger houses, such as those above storerooms on Market Street. With the exception of some twentieth-century renovations to the building, 9 King Street’s structure, ornamentation, and layout are characteristic of Jamaican domestic building practices. The house is distinguished by its three hipped roofs and the gallery which wraps around the north and east elevations.

Much of the structure is original. The most formal space in the house is a front chamber under the easternmost roof, connected to two smaller chambers divided by a central passage beneath the second hip. Openness is achieved in the principal chamber with three double exterior doors and two six-over-six windows. A pair of doors flanks a central front window on the eastern wall, while the second door, centered on the north end, directly opposite the south window, provides a second entry and allows cross ventilation. The ornamentation on the interior of the principal chamber speaks to its importance as the primary entertaining space in the house. The walls are sheathed with flush, unbeaded, horizontal boards, and the ceiling is lined with a substantially restored dentil cornice detailed with thin neoclassical moldings. The tray ceiling, with early 20th century matchboard lining, is not original to the structure and hides the original beaded timber roof frame.

Three original doorways, which lead into private chambers beneath the middle hipped roof, pierce the room’s western wall. The arched central opening features paneled pilasters and opens into a central passage, while two flanking four-paneled doors give access to the two chambers on either side of the passage. Originally unlit, the passage now receives natural light and air through a central louvered cupola, added circa 1900. Along with the fretwork on the gallery, this cupola contributes to the house’s Victorian appearance.

The plan of the house offers numerous circulation patterns, but also exhibits a concern for privacy. The chamber doorways to the central passage are staggered to increase privacy in a narrow space, even though the wall partitions between the passage and adjacent chambers only rise to the eaves, leaving an open space beneath the hip. Unlike the sheathed central passage, the central chambers have exposed framing members, planed and beaded in the typical Falmouth manner.

Beneath the third hipped roof, exposed framing of the partition wall reveals beaded timbers and suggests that that the rear section of the house always consisted of two spaces. A circa 1900, shed-roofed addition on the north side of the back room is an additional bedroom. The attached bath, which can also be accessed from the northern chamber under the middle hip, may have been enclosed from the gallery.

Around 1900, a rear door on axis with the passage was cut into the back room, which opens onto a narrow porch that connects to the twentieth-century kitchen, a shed attached to an adjacent house that faces Rodney Street. A 2007 survey of 9 King Street speculates that the neighboring house was always a separate dwelling, a suspicion supported by the 1844 subdivision of the lot. The original 50 x 120 foot property was divided into eastern and western halves. 9 King Street stands on the eastern portion, while the house facing Rodney Street occupies the western part.

1 Richard Barrett Waite, 13 June 1789, Inventories, Jamaica Archives, volume 74, folio 84

2 Edward Barrett to Richard Barrett Waite, 20 August and 10 December 1782, Deeds, Island Record Office, volume 318, folio 42-434

3 Deeds, Island Record Office, volume 1288, folio 372. Transcript of deed received from Elaine Melbourne (purchased land in 1996), former owner of 9 King Street.