Ooty Heritage Trail
The following heritage trail has been compiled by Mrs. Geetha Srinivasan, convener, INTACH (Nilgiris Chapter). Mrs. Srinivasan is also a nature conservationist, a wild life activist and President of Nilgiris Wild Life & Environment Association, Ooty.
Since this information was compiled a few years ago, some of the details may have changed; the history however, has not.
Lord Lytton, Governor General of India visited the Nilgiris in September 1877, and wrote the following lines to his wife Lady Lytton.
The morning was fine and for the first time I have seen Ootacamund. Having seen it I affirm it to be a Paradise, and declare without hesitation that in every particulars it far surpasses all that its most enthusiastic admirers and lovers have said to us about it. The afternoon was rainy and the road muddy, but such beautiful English rains, such delicious English mud. Imagine Hertfordshire Lanes, Devonshire Downs, Westmoreland Lakes and Lusitanian views.
This paradise which Lord Lytton saw in the nineteenth century is destroyed in many ways, the Downs for instance have been covered with Wattle and Eucalyptus and landscape changed in many ways, but a large slice of the British Raj, the Architectural Heritage still remains. So travel down the Heritage Trail and discover the magic of “Snooty Ooty”, when it was truly the Queen of Hill Stations.
Government Arts College
One of the most Historic Buildings in Ooty, the Building originally housed the Secretariat and the oldest part is the from the land was purchased is the Stone House. Originally built by John Sullivan, the land was purchased from the Todas for roughly one rupee an acre and construction started in 1822 and was completed in one year. A number of halls and rooms have been built around the original structure making the construction a peculiar combination of traditional and Anglican styles. One of the living legacies is the Oak Tree planted by John Sullivan in 1823.
Government Botanical Gardens
A major tourist attraction, it started as a small vegetable patch in early 1840s for supplying fresh vegetables to the residents of Ooty. The Marquis of Tweedale, then Governor of Madras Presidency converted the place into a Public Garden and the services of W.G. Mclvor from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (a world heritage site in UK) was listed in 1848, and he planted Ooty’s first Mulberry Tree and red and white Camellias. The jewel of Victorian Architecture, the Mclvor Fern House is named after him. With different species of flowering shrubs and herbs planted from all over the world, it is one of the oldest Heritage Gardens in the country.
Situated in the Botanical Gardens and built more than 130 years ago, it was built during the Governorship of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos in the 1870s and is now the summer residence of the Governor of Tamil Nadu.
Sacred Heart Cathedral
When one walks down the Garden Road from the Botanical Gardens, the spires of the Sacred Heart Cathedral are visible. Built in the Gothic style, architectural features such as double arched and triple-arched windows indicate that the Cathedral was built in the late nineteenth century.
The foundation stone of this prestigious Club was laid by H.E. Sir Arthur Lawley, the Governor of Madras on 15th September 1911. The Institute was declared open by H.E the Rt. Hon. Lord Pentland on 19th May 1913. As a major donor, the Bobbili Hall is named after the Maharajah of Bobbili.
Founded by H.E. Lady Willingdon, it was originally a Ball room in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Today it houses the best Cinema theatre in the district.
Built in the memory of Rt. Hon. William Patrickadam of Port Blair by Adam, the Governor of Madras, it is a fine specimen of nineteenth century fountains and was originally located near the collectorate.
Breek’s Memorial School
Built in 1874, the School was started in the memory of Breek, the first Commissioner of Ooty. The special architectural features are the Cloister Valut roof, and the arched masonry decorations seen above many of the rectangular doors and windows. There is gable decoration above the central building.
Situated near the Breek’s School, the Club is housed in a building with narrow paved steps. Though the exact date of the building is unknown, it was built in the early part of the last century.
A majestic brick building more than a century old, built in 1895 as per the inscription on the building, the external façade is richly ornamented, and the special features are the windows which are of the Tudor Arch type.
Housing one of the best, oldest and most famous Library in Tamil Nadu, the structure was erected 1867, Possessing Arched windows, it is a building of great majesty. According to the District Gazetteer, the Library was opened in 1859 leading one to conclude that it was housed in some other premises, before it was shifted to the present area.
Opposite to the Heritage Buildings housing the Higginbothams complex is the District Collectorate. Since much of the original buildings exist it is of historical importance. In 1866, a building called the “New Public Office” was allotted to the Joint Magistrate and Civil Sessions Judge. In 1868, the District was placed under a Commission. In 1882, the Post was abolished and the collectorate was formed. Decorated with Gables, the building possesses several Arched openings.
Behind the Collectorate with its unique Clock Tower which is one of the oldest in the State is the District court. Originally part of the Breek’s School, it forms part of the important Heritage Zone of the town, and is a good example of nineteenth century architecture.
St. Stephens’s Church
Belonging to CSI, it is one of the oldest and best preserved Churches of the District. The foundation stone was laid on 23rd April 1829 by the Governor, Rt. Hon. Stephen Rumbold Lushington, and the building was consecrated on 5th December 1830 by Rt. Hon. Reverend John Mathias. The Architect in charge was John James Underwood, Captain, Madras Regiment. The teak wood for the massive doors was obtained by dismantling Tippu Sultan’s Palace after the British victory at seringapatam. The colonial features of the building are the Tudor arch, Lance openings and the Steeples.
One of the best preserved legacies of the British raj, the Club has been in existence from the nineteenth century. Displaying some of the best artefacts, photographs of the Hunt and Huntmasters from 1870 to 1929 decorate the dining room. Almost like a living Museum, portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Winston Churchill adorn the walls. (Entry for members only)
Built originally as a School for European boys, the property was sold to a Major Underwood who then sold it to Mr. H.R. Dawson and in 1841 he ran it as the Union Hotel. In 1868, Mr. C. Sylk bought the property and he ran it as Sylk’s Hotel. It was run by Spencer’s as Savoy Hotel and now belongs to the Taj group of Hotels.
One of the most prestigious and beautiful buildings in the Nilgiris, many of the original Architectural features are still discernible. The wooden roof in the interior is in the shape of a wagon. Originally owned by the British, it was sold to the Jodhpur Royal Family. The Government of Tamil Nadu purchased the property in 1958 for Rs. 5,50,000. The biggest and most important room is the Conference Hall which is fully panelled with wood. Originally a private residence, it is now a State Government Guest House for V.I.P visitors.
St Mary’s Church
Architecturally, the Church is very different from the other Churches of the District. The domes may indicate both Byzantium and Islamic influence. Possessing pointed arched windows, and a huge faceted dome adorning the rear roof of the Church it may have been built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Though heavily polluted, the history of the town and the lake are closely intertwined. John Sullivan, who founded Ooty in the 1820s constructed the lake by bringing workers from the plains. The water was mainly supplied by the Kodapamund Channel which was a perennial stream in those days. Originally, a source of fresh drinking water, it was used as a fishing lake till 1972. Now under the TTDC, it is used as a Recreation Center, it is a popular tourist attraction. Originally covering 65 acres, it is now about 2km in length.
Over a century old, it has been renovated in recent times and the original features are not discernible. Comparable to the other boat houses built by the British along water bodies, along with the lake it forms part of the legacy of the town.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Railway Station belonging to early twentieth century has been completely renovated and has lost all its original features, but the NMR has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The line from Mettupalayam to Coonoor was thrown open in June 1889, and was operated by the Madras Railway Company on behalf of the Government for some time until the South Indian Railway purchased the line. Since the Ooty lake covered an extensive area in those days, including the Racecourse, an embankment was erected across the lake at Willowbund. Adopting the Swiss Rach system, special Rack bars are provided between the rails and forms a special ladder up which the Locomotive pulls the train from Kallar to Coonoor. With its quaint carriages which impart a fairy tale atmosphere to the journey, the ride is punctuated by long tunnels, magnificent vistas, and bridges crossing gushing mountain streams. Figuring in numerous Tamil and even some Hindi films, it was even converted by David Lean, the noted Director into the famous Marabar Express in his film, “Passage to India”.
St Thomas Church
Over 125 years old, it is one of the important churches in the area. Consisting of stone and brick wall, the building possesses a series of lovely Lancet windows of various sizes flanked by masonry decorations. Built in 1867, the Church displays various colonial features. The Graveyard over a century old displays inscriptions from late nineteenth to early twentieth century.
Originally a Brewery, it is now a Guest House with a charming European ambience, and transports one to the times of tinkling bone china and Wedgewood tea-pots. The Commemoration Plaque reads, “Dedicated to the Glory of God and the Service of India and all Mankind on 8th April 1929. The gift of Friends in the United States of America to the Young Women’s Christian Association of India, Burma, and Ceylon”. Covering an extensive area, the Bungalows of lime mortar and sloped roofs add a quaint charm to the place, and is a good example of early twentieth century architecture.
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