Heritage sites of Guyana…
THE NATIONAL Trust of Guyana is a government enterprise whose mandate propels its commitment to the preservation and conservation of historic buildings and sites in Guyana. Therefore, we aim to enlighten the public about various aspects, symbols, landmarks and structures of our rich and diverse heritage. Today’s feature is the renowned ‘Alms House’, also known as ‘The Palms’. As the name suggests, the ‘Alms House’ is an establishment which is benevolent in character.
Located on Brickdam, the buildings which compose the Alms House was at the time of the abolition of slavery called the Colony Negro Houses. At that time, this institution was responsible for, and gave shelter to, the old, the infirm and their children.
However, the building was poorly maintained. Due to its state of disrepair, recommendations were made by the Sanitary District No.9 to have the structures demolished, giving consideration only to maintaining sufficient room to house the old people.
This decision was met with serious opposition and caused a petition to be prepared highlighting the grievances of those who felt they were being treated unfairly. Signed by eight residents who claimed to be former Crown Servants, the Central Board of Health was persuaded to conduct an investigation into the concerns raised by these persons.
After investigation, it was suggested that, in the interest of everyone concerned, the buildings should be sold and the monies acquired from the sale should be used to erect a suitable building for the accommodation of the helpless people.
***Under these circumstances at this juncture in 1851 our Almshouse was officially established. The original architectural design was the ingenuity of Mr. Caesar Castellani in 1874 which took four years to be completed. Since its original construction, additional structures have been added to accommodate its growing population which now included orphans, paupers and even the mentally disabled. By the 1920s they had an approximation of nine hundred (900) inmates.
In 1948, the Almshouse was renamed the Palms but the nature and objectives of the institution remained the same. As stated in 1948 the aim was described as
“A welfare institution catering for the destitute and homeless individuals being for the most part aged people who are infirm and cannot support themselves in the community and are in need of geriatric care and attention … the objective of the institution is to create and maintain an atmosphere of homeliness for residents.”
Today, funded by the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security the Palms Geriatric Institution is home to approximately 214 senior citizens providing love, care and services to its occupants. But that care is deficient in the maintenance of the building which deteriorated causing a section to be demolished and now lacks the grandeur of its design and architecture so greatly admired at the time of its construction, which it was felt conveyed a different image of the commonly referred Poor House.
While this building may not have been gazetted as a national monument or even considered one due to its antiquity, like many others, it is a remarkable reminder of an aspect our nation’s history and as such it is imperative that we ensure its continuity. To this end, the National Trust of Guyana, which undertakes to promote and safeguard the nation’s heritage, invites the members of the community to take an active role in ensuring the long term survival of Guyana’s patrimony by exercising care and respect at all times when visiting monuments and heritage sites.