Daily Gleaner, March 24, 1892
The good people of this busy little St. Elizabethan village had donned their holiday attire onTuesday last, as well as their most pleasing expression of countenance, on the occasion of the arrival of the first passenger train, from Kingston, and although the passengers could have been numbered upon the
fingers of one hand, they positively beamed upon them, as if extending a hearty, though silent welcome.
There is nothing imposing about the station itself, - it is merely a stucco and wood building, that could be run up in a very short space of time, - but at the first glance it is noticed that it has been constructed with a view to facilitating goods traffic, rather than for the accommodation of passengers.
The better part of the concrete platform is raised on a level with the flooring of the cars, so that as little trouble as possible will be experienced in loading and unloading the goods-vans with merchandise &c. There is a commodious goods repository running parallel with the track, at this point, whilst the part of the platform reserved for passengers is on a level with the rails, necessitating a certain amount of climbing before taking one's seat in the train.
The descent, of some three feet or so, from the goods portion of the platform to the lower level, is not made by steps, but by a somewhat abruptly sloping incline, and on our return from the village, whilst seated in the train waiting the signal for a start homeward, we amused ourselves by watching a bevy of young Balaclavian belles, who had assembled to wish us bon voyage, and who had possibly never seen a train until that morning - tripping up and down this slope,many of them showing a neatly-turned ankle, as they performed a little feat of dexterity in which they imagined there was a certain spice of danger. For the most part they were attired in spotlessly white dresses, with excruciatingly
flower-bedecked head-gear. A heavy shower of rain, however, coming on just as we were leaving, put a stop to their innocent amusement, evidently much to their chagrin - and ours.
If, day after day, the same punctuality be observed in the arrival of the train as took place on the initial trip, no one, however fastidious and exacting, will have any cause for complaint. No sooner had we alighted than we made our way through the little crowd of sight-seers, and, descending a hill for about 160 yards, we entered the village, which consists of one main street only, although, on every side the hills bordering the plain in which Balaclava is situated are dotted with more or less pretentious buildings.
After its long and winding course through the parish of Manchester, the railway at this point enters St, Elizabeth, and Balaclava, though but a couple of miles from the imaginary line of demarcation, is an important trade centre in the latter parish. As to the nature of the country, I may remark that the environs of this village - cannot I now speak of it as a town? - are strikingly diversified by mountains and plains, and this is the case throughout the parish, which can. boast of such properties as Goschen, Hodges Pen, Gilnoch. Pepper, Longhill, and Friendship, which, together with many others of less extent, are famous for the quality of their cattle and live stock. Aa estimate of the live stock on the Pens is as follows:- 10,439 horned cattle, 4,084 horse kind and 1,000 sheep, besides those on the sugar estates, of which there are seven in cultivation.
The produce which finds it way to the market at Balaclava, is of a varied description and may be said to represent, in a greater or less degree, the whole category of the productions of the island. I may mention, that besides the minor products, the country round Balaclava produces rum, sugar, pimento, coffee, logwood, ginger, and tobacco. The crop of oranges this year was a very plentiful one, but consequent upon the want of demand, no market could be found for them. The fruit, I was informed by Mr. Pengelley, who "runs" the principal store in Balaclava, was allowed to fall from the trees, and, rotting upon the ground, was eaten by the pigs and other animals. Apropos of pigs, by the way, I think I saw more of these animals in Balaclava, than I have met with in any other part of the Island.
The Saturday market invariably presents a scene of busy life and activity, for those who have ground provisions and other products for sale, to say nothing of horned stock and sheep - flock to it from the surrounding country in large numbers, to dispose of their vegetables and other produce, and make purchases of groceries etc., for home consumption. The hills and plains round about Balaclava are well adapted for the cultivation of these ground provisions, of which there is always an excellent supply, - finding a ready sale at these periodical Saturday markets.
I must not forget to mention that one of the staple products of the country bordering upon the town, is corn. This cereal in fact is grown in St. Elizabeth to an extent allowing for the area of the parish, far exceeding that of any other parish in the island, there being 386 acres under cultivation, as compared with the parish of St. Andrew, - the next in point of the quantity of land under corn cultivation, - which is represented by 113 acres only. In 1888-89 the sugar estates in St. Elizabeth produced 240 hogsheads of sugar and 341 puncheons of rum, the coffee crops for the period being 3,059 cwt. There is every probability of the forthcoming crop being a very good one.
The village itself, being so circumscribed in its proportions, calls for but little comment except to state that the main street - it is really all main street - consists almost entirely of stores for the sale of various goods. Many of these wooden buildings display a notice which, in addition to the name of the proprietor, informs the passer-by that he is authorised to deal in produce etc. Needless to say that rum shops are conspicuous - they usually are in Jamaican villages by the way -and I was amused by one notice board which conveyed the information that the proprietor of the store, the door of which it surmounted, was " Licensed to sell rum, brandy, gin, and cotton shirts!"
There is one store that deserves a word or two en passant. It is really an imposing structure, regarded from the point of view of comparison with the other establishments in Balaclava. This store is known as the “The Pengelley Store." and, as its title implies, it is owned by the gentleman to whom I have already referred, and who is the "Universal Provider" of Balaclava.
In spite of the occasion of our visit being an “off-day," as far as affording us an opportunity of observing the trading characteristics of the place, there was a certain amount of bustle observable, auguing well for the future prosperity of the town. It is to be hoped, however, that storekeepers in Kingston will not hurriedly rush off to this point in the island to create branch establishments or open up a new business. So. far as I could judge there are already as many stores in Balaclava, as are likely to be required by those who will patronise them.