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Discover The Great House Antigua, which was once the center of a massive sugar plantation known as the “Mercers Creek Plantation.”

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The Great House Antigua, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2022, dates back to 1670.


Set within the 26 acres of historic Mercers Creek Plantation, The Great House Antigua is now a fantastic holiday destination that dates back over four centuries. Historical records indicate that the hotel was originally constructed as the manor of the sugarcane plantation by Philip Watkins in 1670. (Watkins himself was a prominent member of the community, working as the Chief Justice of the Leeward Islands for years.) His plans called for an ornate building to reside at the center of the estate that resembled the shape of a massive galleon. Watkins spared no expense developing the structure either, as he used imported white stone from the English Cotswolds to craft its exterior façade. When the construction finally finished months later, the beautiful manor home served as the plantation’s primary residence for generations. Throughout the years that followed, subsequent owners managed to rehabilitate the facility into an exclusive Caribbean retreat. The various proprietors also shared the estate with several high-profile guests like Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Greta Garbo adored her time visiting the home following her retirement from Hollywood, especially due to its secluded nature. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden stayed on-site for some time while finishing his memoir, Full Circle, as well. The manor was even a honeymoon retreat for HRH Princess Margaret and her husband Anthony Armstrong-Jones, until it was suspected that the press had discovered the secret location and they were forced to move elsewhere! Then in 2018, Gabriella and Isabella Howell decided to fully renovate the main house into a brilliant boutique hotel known as “The Great House Antigua.” The two had a deep reverence for the location, as it had served as the vacation getaway for their grandparents decades prior. Working together alongside other members of their family, the Howells managed to masterfully restore the character of the historic house. It has since emerged as one of the most luxurious vacation retreats throughout the Leeward Islands.

  • About the Location +

    A part of the Lesser Antilles, Antigua and Barbuda are rich in history. Even though many different civilizations had called the two land masses home at one point or another, the first were ancient Native Americans people remembered as the “Amerindians.” Antigua served as the main place of settlement, with Barbuda remaining largely unoccupied for years. Nevertheless, the Amerindians were eventually followed by the Saladoids, the Arawakans, and Caribs over the course of several centuries. It was the Arawakans who specifically established the first farms on Antigua, growing crops that included guava, corn, sweet potatoes, and the now-famous Antiguan black pineapple. But in the late 15th century, Antigua and Barbuda became known to seafaring Europeans after Christopher Columbus discovered them amid one of his voyages to the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish and French sporadically attempted to settle Antigua and Barbuda for many decades thereafter, until the British finally seized control over the region at the beginning of the 17th century. Antigua itself became an official royal colony, with the first group of colonists arriving from neighboring St. Kitts in 1632. Then, a few years later, Sir Christopher Codrington received Barbuda as a gift from the British Crown to govern as his own. Aware of the area’s agricultural heritage, the settlers attempted to create their own farms across Antigua. But the colonists soon realized that sugarcane took very well to the environment and started creating massive plantations that specialized in its cultivation. The trade in sugarcane made the two islands incredibly prosperous, at least for the European planters who operated the plantations. Indeed, Sir Christopher Codrington—who opened the first sugarcane estate in 1674—became one of the biggest benefactors from the newfound economic activity.

    Antigua and Barbuda subsequently developed a place of incredible strategic importance for the British Empire in the Caribbean, resulting in their widespread fortification throughout the 18th century. Indeed, the British designated Antigua to act as the main headquarters for the Royal Navy’s Caribbean Fleet, which was based out of a local deep-water port known as “English Harbour.” English Harbour soon became home to a facility known as “Nelson’s Dockyard,” named in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson. (A future hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Nelson briefly served as the armada’s commanding flag officer for a time during the 1780s.) The British Admiralty gradually developed the base, expanding its size exponentially to the point where it constituted a small town. But Antigua and Barbuda’s prosperity featured a dark side. To supplement the growth of sugarcane, the islands’ European colonists relied heavily on the use of enslaved African labor. In fact, slaves became the most populous demographic on the island for a long time, with hundreds living on both islands by the end of the 1700s. Thankfully, the system of slavery was abolished throughout both Antigua and Barbuda in the wake of Great Britain’s abolishment of the institution in the early 19th century. Today, Antigua and Barbuda exist as an independent, jointly run island nation. It is among the most culturally diverse places to visit in the Caribbean Sea, as its heritage attracts countless tourists from around the world every year. The two islands are also home to some of the most noteworthy historical landmarks in the region, such as Betty’s Hope Sugar Mill and the UNESCO-recognized Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Nelson’s Dockyard has many of its own unique sites to experience, too, including the Clarence House and the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center.

  • About the Architecture +

    Part of the charm of entering The Great House Antigua is the unique and splendid surroundings. From Chippendale furniture pieces, ancient maps of the Caribbean island, gramophones or the last water filtration system pots—used centuries ago to filter and cool the water through limestone—guests are in awe of what they can discover on-site. Historically, plantation houses were built on an elevated position to benefit from the cooling winds of the neighboring Caribbean. Mercers Creek's “Great House” still sits squarely on the grounds with a commanding view over the sea, Guana island, and its own creek. The original sugar mill—with many of its features still intact—is without its running sail, taken no-doubt by hurricanes past. The Great House team has since been working hard to capture the history and stories of previous owners and occupiers of the estate. Some folk-lore stories have been passed down through families, and research has been gathered from museums various institutions based in places ranging from the United States to the United Kingdom.

    Countless hours have also been spent within the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda to collect as much information about of the full story behind the plantation house named “Mercers Creek.” Gabriella and Isabella Howell—the two sisters who run The Great House Antigua today—grew up in the home their mother, Janey Howell, before converting it into a historic-boutique hotel. Janey finished her masters in Georgian history and architecture, who used the research obtained during the course to help guide the greater restoration work that transpired toward the end of the 2010s. The grand drawing room in particular has benefited from her understanding of décor and color. Gabriella's academic background has always been focused on history and she is currently undertaking her Ph.D. dissertation with a focus on the house and people associated with it. Her studies have gone a long way in presenting the history to guests staying in the historic house. Though the research will go on for many more years—and some of the stories may never be discovered—it is the honor of the Howell family to present a real picture of it to all their guests.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Great Garbo, actress known for her roles in Grand Hotel, Romance, and Anna Christie. 

    Humphrey Bogart, actor known for his roles in movies like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sleep.

    Richard Burton, actor known for his roles in Cleopatra and Where Eagles Dare.

    Frank Sinatra, singer and actor part of the famous Rat Pack known for selling 150 million records worldwide. 

    Viv Richards, cricketer regarded as one of the best batsmen in the sport.

    Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, First Lady of the United States (1961 – 1963)

    Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1955 – 1957)

    Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

    Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon