The new New Amsterdam celebrates its 120th anniversary as a town this week. The celebration climaxes this weekend with the Town Day, Street Fair and Wash down, events that many people look forward to each year, and one that ‘draws the crowds’.
Town Day back in 2000 by then Mayor, Errol Alphonso, in what was dubbed as the best Town Day since.
New Amsterdam is Guyana’s oldest town, with a rich history. About 1733, the name New Amsterdam was given to a little village that sprang up around Fort Nassau, several miles up the Berbice River. In 1785 it was decided to abandon Fort Nassau and move to the neighbourhood of Fort St. Andries lower down the river at the confluence of the Berbice River and its tributary the Canje River which is now the site of present day New Amsterdam.
This position was obviously selected that the town may be the natural outlet and interpot for a very extensive and productive hinterland. It was a good vision and fortune that a place of strategic importance should also be of equal commercial significance. Thus began our Town.
New Amsterdam is located about five miles from the mouth of the Berbice River on its eastern bank and is situated at the confluence of the Berbice and Canje Rivers. And it is connected by a national highway to Rose Hall, Corriverton and Crabwood Creek.
New Amsterdam, covers about 13.7 square kilometers in area with an estimated population of approximately 35,000.
The Town is bounded to the north by the Canje River; south by Doe Park; west by the Berbice River and east by Caracas (Angoy’s Avenue).
The original Nieuw Amsterdam grew up being Fort Nassau some 55 miles up the Berbice River during the first half of the 18th Century. It was a small township with buildings mostly strung out parallel to the river Bank.
The inhabitants of the town were required to pay a fixed sum annually to the Dutch Reformed Church and the Hospital, and were required to keep the public paths and the dividing land between their lots free of bushes and grass.
The name New Amsterdam was chosen because most of the shareholders were from the province of New Amsterdam in Holland.
Dr. George Pinckards – in a “Letter from Guyana” describing New Amsterdam, about 1806, indicated that at the end of the Town, close to the Canje Creek was the imposing edifice of Government Housing which was built of brick in the ‘European Style’. Along the [stet] covered with troolie or plantain leaves, other with shingles.
In 1812 a special Department of Works, the Winkel Department, was set up to deal with all repair works required by the residents. The workmen were originally slaves who were housed in one of the older parts of New Amsterdam. They were given their freedom in 1831, three years before slavery was abolished throughout the British West Indies.
The newly freed slaves were allowed to keep their houses in Winkel Village and in 1890 their descendants petitioned the Combined Court of British Guiana for the grant land on which the houses stood. This land passed into ownership of Winkel heirs. Winkel has been preserved as a ward of the Town.
The Town Hall of the Tudor architecture with a tower approximately 75 feet; The New Amsterdam Market sited below the Town Hall occupying an area of 26,400 sq. ft. ; The Supreme Court which was housed in the Colony House ; The Canje Swing Bridge built by an English Engineer; The Mission Chapel Church and School; All Saints Scots Church and School; The Water Work; Introduction of Electricity; and The Botanic Gardens all emerged.
The Electric Lighting Order of 1900 gave the electricity undertaking legal status as an entity owned and controlled by the New Amsterdam Town Council. Due to a world crisis in October 1973 interims of the availability and sudden rise in the price of fuel oil and subsequently on spare parts and services, it became uneconomical for power stations within close proximity to operate independently. Consequently, in keeping with the economic policy of the Government, the New Amsterdam Power System was absorbed into the larger system of that of the Guyana Electricity Corporation on September 1, 1979.
New Amsterdam had been the center of culture and music also. Some of the outstanding personalities in this field were Edith Pieters, Norma Romalho, Joyce Ferdinand-Lalljee, Moses Telford and Rosemary Ramdeholl – to name a few.
There were also the highly acclaimed ‘Lads and Lassies’ and ‘New Amsterdam Music Society’, both choirs trained by Miss Edith Pieters and Mrs. Ruby McGregor, respectively.
Other outstanding musicians included Sammy Nicholas, Millicent Joseph and Edith Ferdinand. Today, however, the best choirs are to be found in churches like (the) Adventists, the Salvation Army and Grace Temple.
Pop music was provided by Bands like the ‘Living Ends’ and ‘S.T. Groovers’. There were also the exciting ‘Soul Riot’ Concerts and ‘Viking Choir’ with a repertoire of classes and calypsos. Names like Chuck Gerrard and Errol Wong (Wongie) must go down in posterity.
The citizens of New Amsterdam were also entertained at open-air concerts at the Old Band Stand at Esplanade Ground. Major Henwood and the B.G. Police Force Band and Randolph Bennett and his boys were regular there, especially on moonlight nights.
Today, although this Band Stand still stands there, the area is earmarked for recreational facilities and a Botanical Gardens.
In the early 90’s, the Mayor and Town Council and the Rotary Club of New Amsterdam worked together to develop Esplanade. The area now houses a Kiddies Corner that was sponsored by Courts Guyana Ltd, but even this too has become run down and dilapidated. The ground had been renamed the Esplanade Recreational Park and Botanical Gardens.
Great importance was attached to the education of its citizens. The work of outstanding teachers like J.Z. Peters, J.A. Ralph, Arthur Thomas, Robert Charles, Miss Austin, C.B. Giddings, A.E. Crawford, Doris Cooper, Sonny Rodway, Harold Scarder, John N. Rollings, and J. N. Harper must be recorded in any history of New Amsterdam.
As a result of the high educational standards and dedicated teachers at the Primary and Secondary levels, the town has been able to produce outstanding sons and daughters like Mrs. Viola Burnham, Gavin Kennard, Sir Shridath Ramphal, Dr. Ewart Thomas, W.O.R. Kendall, the Luckhoos, J.O.F. Haynes, Edgar Mittelholzer, Jan Carew, Charles Fung-A-Fat, Clifford Baburam, the Hanomans, Joseph Eleazer, P.A. Cummings, and many others.
In the commercial sector firms like the Rambarrans, Persauds, Diyaljees, the Ganpatsinghs, E.A. Chapman, Rohlehrs, Carews, Hanomans, Hughes, Chois, S. Davsons and Sons, and S.G. Wreford and Company have contributed to the economic development of the Town and its environs.
In the field of building and construction there were private individuals like the elder Chapman who built the New Amsterdam Stelling, S.G. Wiltshire, Charlie Hancock and Lyndon La Bennett.
A living testimonial of Charlie Hancock’s work is the Horse Shoe Table, which adorns the Council Chamber of the town. The chairs around the table, however, were made by the Lutheran Church, which at one time operated a woodworking centre. At the other end of the spectrum there were firms like H.C. Alphonso and Sons and Nabbi Brothers who undertook major construction works in the Town. New Amsterdam has had a very colorful past.
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