Built on a hill formed from a volcanic eruption many thousands of years ago, the first fort was constructed in 1699 by Englishman Colonel Tobias Frere, who arrived from Barbados with 60 men and built a series of huts protected by a thick wall of wooden posts, known as a palisade (from which our waterfront restaurant gets its name).
Over the ensuing decades the fort saw many fights between the British and the French as they jostled for control of the island. In 1751 the French built a more solid fort of stone and wood, with three nine-pounder cannons for protection. This lasted until 1763, when the British retook the encampment at the culmination of the Seven Years War, with possession of the entire island confirmed at the Treaty of Paris that year.
By 1770 the British were keen to build a stronger fort, and the Royal Engineer George Bruce sent drawings to London with designs for a new building. Materials from this phase in our life are still visible throughout the older parts of the hotel. Volcanic rock known as ‘welded turf’ was quarried in the Roseau valley; boulders were lifted from the river; and coral limestone burned in kilns to make mortar and whitewash which was then combined with molasses to make it more pliable. With such ingredients, the fort was a truly Dominican construction – made from volcanoes, coral reefs and rum sugar!
Added to this, English merchant ships brought clay from the UK’s Midlands, stone from Yorkshire and roofing slates from Wales in their holds, serving as ballast across the Atlantic. To this day you can still see the large Yorkshire stone slabs at entrance to the hotel.
Indeed as you walk around the Fort Young, it is easy to imagine its former military use. The reception lobby was once the Main Guard. The stone that sits to the right of the Hotel entrance was the mounting block on which soldiers stood to mount their horses. The Magazine where gunpowder was once stored is now The Vault, our main conference room. And the officers’ quarters are where the hotel’s offices now stand, running along the centre of the main courtyard.
By the middle of the 19th Century the wars between the British and the French had settled down, and the need was not to defend the island so much as to control its inhabitants. Therefore the Fort was reborn as the central police station in 1859, which it remained until 1957. Its position at the centre of island life was further reinforced since all distances out of Roseau were now measured from our gates. Added to which, each year traders, shopkeepers and rum shop owners had to come to the fort to ensure their measuring cups were accurate. They did this by comparing their measures with the official standard imperial Measures, a set of ornate brass vessels of which three remain still in the central courtyard.
By now the Fort was a more welcoming place to foreign visitors, and every steam ship that came into harbour was hailed with a salute from the 19th century bronze cannons, as also seen today in our central courtyard. And each night at 9pm they were fired to let the townsfolk known what time it was (don’t worry, we don’t do that anymore!)
The first hotel opened in the Fort in 1964, and for many years was a huge success, although a drop in tourist numbers during the 1970s to Dominica due to political upheaval and then the tragedy of Hurricane David in 1979, saw the hotel close for a few years.
It was reopened in 1989, since when it has steadily grown from a 32 room establishment to the 73 room landmark it is today. Perhaps the last words on our unique heritage are best left to local historian Lennox Honeychurch, whose book about the Fort – a copy of which can be found in every room – closes with the words:
“On the place where Carib/Kalinago traders made contact with Europeans; where French and English woodcutters built their early wooden forts; where 18th century generals played out the chess game of empire; and where 19th and 20th century policeman laid down the law, Fort Young has been able to take on a new lease of life into the 21st century.”