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Colonial-era wooden buildings decay in Sierra Leone

Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters

A pedestrian walks past a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century on Pademba Road in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown on April 27. Scattered across Sierra Leone's capital Freetown stand ageing wooden houses, some of which look more like they belong on the east coast of 18th century America than in a steamy west African city. Others look like they may have been built hundreds of years ago in the islands of the Caribbean, another reflection of Sierra Leone's history as a colony established for freed slaves.

Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters

A traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century stands on the main road through the Congo Town neighbourhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown.

Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters

People walk past a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century on the main road through the Murray Town neighbourhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown.

Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters

A former British colonial administration building stands on stilts in the Hill Station neighbourhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. Alongside the Krio Board Houses, the Hill Station area of Freetown is home to another set of striking timber dwellings with a different history. After research in Freetown indicated that mosquitoes brought malaria, around 100 years ago the British colonial authorities relocated their settlement from the stifling coastal flats to higher ground. Large wooden dwellings stand on metal stilts driven into concrete piles. Covered porches descend to ground level.

Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters

Painted metal covers the walls of a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century in the Murray Town neighbourhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. The Board House style has been in steady decline for decades, as stone and concrete became more fashionable. Many of the homes are now dilapidated and patched with sheets of rusted metal to keep out rain during the wet season.

Reuters reports that some of the wood used in construction came to Sierra Leone in ships, carried as ballast:

Isa Blyden, a documentary producer who has researched Freetown architecture, sees the origin of the houses in the arrival of the ‘Nova Scotians' to Sierra Leone.

These former American slaves and free blacks sought refuge with the British during the American Revolutionary War. After the British defeat they were evacuated to Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada, and in 1792 a contingent came to Sierra Leone.

Blyden sees the original single-storey Freetown Board House as a reconstruction of the cabin-like structures built a little earlier on the American eastern seaboard.

"The style of house was being built in America in 1776," Blyden said.

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