GROWTH OF GEORGETOWN
The town of Stabroek was renamed Georgetown in 1812 when it began to be governed by a Board of Policy. Three years later, this Board appointed a Receiver of Town Taxes and a Clerk of Markets. By this period, commercial activities were growing and there were already a number of open-air markets in various parts of the town. A Board of Health was appointed in 1832 after a small outbreak of cholera.
As the population grew and more "burgs" were added, thus expanding Georgetown, the Court of Policy passed an Ordinance on 1 March 1837 to establish a governing authority made up of a Mayor and Town Council. The Council comprised of 11 elected councillors and every year they elected one of their numbers to be the Mayor. The franchise was very limited and a town resident qualified to vote in Council elections only if he had a house rated at a value of 3,500 guilders. A candidate for a position on the Council had to own a house valued at over 8,000 guilders. In subsequent years these qualifications were lowered. In 1860 a candidate for councillor had to own premises valued $1,500 while a voter was required to own premises with an appraised value of $250. Further lowering of these qualifications took place in 1898.
The first Mayor of Georgetown was John Croal, and among the first Council members, all of whom were wealthy merchants and landowners, was George Booker who was also a sugar plantation owner.
The Town Council was provided with powers to run all the affairs of Georgetown, including collecting taxes, policing and superintending the markets. It also was in charge of providing health services and building and maintaining roads, canals, bridges and kokers.
In 1839, just two years after the Town Council was established, it clashed with the Governor who said it was his right to determine how the Council's funds should be used. After an ordinance passed by the Court of Policy gave the Governor that final authority, the Council wrote to the British Government to protest this move. The petition of the members of the Council won a great deal of sympathy in London, and in 1840, an Order-in-Council issued by the British Government overturned the ordinance. This action severely reduced the role of the Governor and the central Government in the financial affairs of the municipality.
City Hall, the building housing the administrative office of the Mayor and Town Council, was officially opened in July 1889. The building which cost $70,500 was designed by Rev. Ignatius Scoles and built by Sprostons Ltd.
While the Town Council was beginning to exercise its authority, other activities were taking place. In September 1838, the Anglican Church began building the St. George's Church and by 1842, when Georgetown was designated a city, it was ready for opening. However, the brick building was badly designed and it shortly after suffered from heavy structural damage and later had to be demolished. A second building was eventually erected but after that became inadequate, it too was demolished. In 1889, work commenced on a large wooden cathedral on the same site, and it was declared open in 1892 at a ceremony presided over by Bishop Austin, even though the building was not completed until 1894.
In 1897, as a result of the growing Muslim population in Georgetown, a mosque was erected in Queenstown. The building of this major place of worship was spearheaded by Goolmohammed Khan, one of the leaders of the Muslim community.
One of the major problems that Georgetown faced was the availability of water for domestic use. In 1825, one of the leading citizens, Dr. Michael McTurk, proposed the construction of a canal to bring water from the Lamaha Creek some distance south of Georgetown. The proposal won support from both the central Government and the Town Council, and by 1829, a canal from the Camuni Creek to Georgetown was completed with the use of the labour of hundreds of slaves. In the town itself, trenches branching off from the Lamaha Canal were dug, and these provided the supply of water to the residents. It was not until 1885 that the people of Georgetown began to get their water supply through pipes after mechanical pumps were purchased by the Council.
From the late eighteenth century, the most popular market place was an open expanse of land where the Stabroek Market building is now located. The area, which was already known as Stabroek Market, was designated as a market by the Town Council in 1842 and taxes were collected from the vendors. As the market grew in size, the need was felt for a permanent building to house the growing commercial operations. An iron building, occupying an area of 70,000 square feet, was designed and built in 1880-1881 by Edgemoor Iron Company of Delaware, USA at a cost of $236,000. To prepare the foundation of the building which became known as the Stabroek Market, 50,000 square feet of the shore of the Demerara River had to be reclaimed. The building was finally opened to the public in November 1881.
Following a request by interested Georgetown residents in 1877 for the establishment of botanical gardens, an area of 276 acres at the back of Plantation Vlissingen was bought by the central Government for $72,000. Part of this block of land was used for the Botanic Gardens, the original laying out of which was completed in January 1889.
Street lights made their appearance in Georgetown in the mid-nineteenth century when lanterns were hung on some of the main streets. By 1873, the newly formed Georgetown Gas Company enabled lighting to be done by gas. Then in 1891, the introduction of electricity brought electric lights along Brickdam and High Street where the more wealthy residents had their homes.
In terms of transportation, the Georgetown Tramways Company in 1879 introduced tramcars pulled by mules. A Canadian firm purchased both the Tramways Company and the small electric company in 1901, which under one management, became known as the Demerara Electric Company. This Company operated in some parts of Georgetown an electric tram service which ceased activities in 1930. The Company also supplied electricity to Georgetown and its environs and was eventually purchased by the Government after 1957.