Cotton Tower Signal Station

Bowling Alley Hill , St. Joseph
St. Joseph
Distance From Airport:
14.8 Km (9.2 Miles)
Distance From Bridgetown:
13.1 Km (8.14 Miles)

Their purpose was to act as monitoring stations to offer a bird’s-eye view of activity happening in the surrounding areas. This was possible because of Barbados' relatively flat typography and, coupled with the height of each tower, it was easy to gaze over the entire island or to look out on the horizon to watch for invading ships, cane fires and monitoring slaves for any possible rebellions or unrest.

The Cotton Tower Signal Station was built in 1819 and was named after Lady Catherine Cotton, the daughter of Lord Combermere who was the Governor of Barbados at the time. Because of its elevation, this signal station offers an extensive view of the landscape of the Scotland District. At 1,091 feet high, the scenery highlights the waters of the Atlantic Ocean peacefully rolling in and the trees, which cover the coast like a thick blanket. The square exterior is 1-2 feet thick and made of rubble, coral blocks and bricks and is paved with cement. The 3-storey structure is decorated with subtle pink paint and furnished with windows, doors, a roof and a deck made of wood. Along with this signal station, the Dover Fort and Grenade Hall have a similar architecture, as they were built in the same year.

Of course, signal stations date back to the years before modern-day technology existed, therefore very creative techniques were needed to communicate with the chain of stations across the island. Along with signal fires, the Semaphore approach was used, where flags and lights on short poles were held in different positions to represent letters of the alphabet. Another interesting method utilised holes and openings in the station walls. The nearby stations would send a light pointing in the direction of the hole at the station they wanted to signal, alerting the other military officials. These ways of communication, albeit simple, were effective and quickly relayed messages - a signal from the north of the island could reach the south in a matter of minutes.

The communication hubs were first created after the first slave rebellion in 1816, which caused substantial damage islandwide to plantations, sugar cane fields and to the plantation owners themselves. As such, the stations were a means of monitoring movement that appeared suspicious.

Most of the signal stations' operations were decommissioned after 1883 and following the invention of the telephone in the same year, the last signal station was closed in 1887. However, before their final closure, the sites were said to have been used briefly in the shipping industry to signal ships and warn of hurricanes.

Today, this station is managed by the Barbados National Trust and it was one of the many signal stations that had been transformed from a military lookout point to a tourist (both domestic and international) lookout point. Unfortunately, the Cotton Tower Signal Station is currently closed to the public. However, in the future, the station will likely be reopened. Until then, the station is a symbol of our past to photograph on a drive around the island or while hiking the east coast.

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