The History of Cuba Volume V Part 33
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The first American Colony in Cuba was started on Broadway, New York City, by a land speculator, who, through correspondence, learned of a large property that could be had in Cuba with a small cash payment, at what seemed to be a ridiculously low price; in other words at about 80 cents an acre. An option was secured on several thousand acres, the larger part of which, perhaps, was available for general agricultural purposes. But the location with reference to transportation facilities was one of the most unfortunate that could have been selected. This colony was called La Gloria, and while La Gloria has not been a failure, nothing in the world has saved it but the pluck, and persistent and intelligent effort of a courageous and most commendable community of Americans.
Some 800 of these, not knowing where they were going, other than that it was somewhere in Cuba, were dumped by a chartered steamer in the harbor of Nuevitas, 40 miles from their destination. This they afterwards reached with the aid of light draft schooners, or shallow, flat-bottom boats, pushed through a muddy ditch some three or four miles, and as many more over sand shoals, where the passengers were compelled to get out and wade. Worse than all, when finally landed on the south shore of Guajaba Bay, they were obliged to wade through a swamp for another five miles, in mud knee-deep, or more, in order to reach the high ground on which they were to make their future homes in a foreign land.
Many of these colonists, disappointed and deceived, failed to stand the strain, and those who had the necessary funds, or could borrow, returned disgusted to their homes in the United States. Others, after studying the soil and noting the splendid growth of forest and vegetation, lulled into resignation by soft, cool breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, and the bright sunshine that seldom missed a day, made up their minds to stick to the game and to see it out, which they did.
Their efforts in the end were crowned with a certain degree of success, and the near future holds out to them the promise of fairly satisfactory transportation for their fruit, vegetables and other products, to profitable markets, both in Cuba and the United States.
The colony of La Gloria in the fall of 1918 contained about 75 families and comprised, all told, probably 500 people. This estimate includes the little nearby settlements of Guanaja, Punta Pelota, Columbia, Canasi, The Garden, and other little suburbs or groups of families, scattered throughout the district.
With the Cubans, the people of La Gloria have always maintained the most friendly relations, while mutual esteem and respect is the rule of the district. The Mayor of La Gloria, a Cuban, was elected by popular vote, and is highly esteemed in the community as a man who has been always an enthusiastic and efficient supporter of the interests of the colony.
Seventy per cent of the population is American. La Gloria has always been fortunate in having a good school in which both Spanish and English are taught.
The town itself is located on the northern edge of the plateau, or rise of ground overlooking the savanna that separates it from the bay. A fairly good road some five miles in length, built at Government expense, connects the town with the wharf, whence, up to the winter of 1918, all produce was sent for shipment to the harbor of Nuevitas some forty miles east by launch.
The streets are very wide, shaded with beautiful flowering flamboyans, and the houses, many of them two stories in height, are built of native woods, cedar, mahogany, etc., products of the saw mills of the neighborhood. These, as a rule, are kept painted, and the general appearance of the town, although not bustling with business, is one of comfort, cleanliness and thrift.
It is not an exaggeration to state that there is no little town in conservative New England where less of waste, or disfiguring material, even in back yards, or rear of houses, can be found, than in the little town of La Gloria. The furnishing of most of the houses consists of a strange mingling of articles of comfort brought from home, combined with other things that have been improvised and dug out of their tropical surroundings.
A mistake, made in the early days of La Gloria, and one common to every American colony in the West Indies, has been the exclusive dedication of energy, effort and capital to the growth of citrus fruit. The first essential factor to the success of a colony in any climate is food, and forage for animals. This, in nearly every American town in Cuba, has been ignored, every effort being expended on the planting and promotion of a citrus grove from which no yield could be expected inside of five or six years, and during which time, many a well meaning farmer has become discouraged or has exhausted his capital, leaving his grove in the end to be choked up with weeds and ruined by the various enemies of the citrus family. However, the people of La Gloria planted and stuck to their orange trees and many of these, today, are yielding very satisfactory returns, in spite of the serious lack of transportation.
The best land belonging to the colony is located in the district known as Canasi, some three miles south of the town, in the direction of the Cubitas Mountains. There are 600 acres in this section devoted to oranges and grape fruit, all of which have been well cared for and are increasing in value each year.
The citizens of the colony have joined forces and built a well equipped packing plant, 100 feet in length by 30 feet in width, from which, last year, were shipped 432,000 loose oranges, and 9,200 boxes of grape fruit, the latter going to the United States by the way of Nuevitas. All of this fruit at the present time is hauled by wagon, some eight or nine miles to the wharf, on the bay, whence it is conveyed to the harbor of Nuevitas for sale and shipment.
La Gloria's hope of really satisfactory transportation facilities is vested in the North Shore Railroad of Cuba, and her dream of suitable connections with the outside world of trade will soon be realized. La Gloria has many things to commend it, aside from soil and climate. One of these is excellent drinking water, found at an average depth of twenty feet. The soil on which the town is built is largely impregnated with iron ore, which forms a splendid roadbed, and enables the population to escape the seas of mud that are rather common throughout the interior, excepting along macadamized roads.
Most vegetables, with the exception of potatoes, may be grown throughout the entire year in La Gloria, and a variety of potato adapted to that peculiar soil will probably be found in the near future. A serious mistake common not only in La Gloria but in nearly all other colonies in Cuba has been neglect in sowing forage plants and thus providing for live stock, so essential to the success of any farming district.
That which is most to be admired in La Gloria, is the class of people who form the backbone of the colony, and who certainly came from excellent stock, proved by their successful efforts in overcoming difficulties that would have discouraged a less persevering community.
The colony supports a weekly newspaper, and holds annual agricultural fairs that are a credit to the district.
The second and most serious experiment in colonization in Cuba was staged in the Isle of Pines. In the year 1900 this intrepid storm sentinel of the Caribbean offered several advantages for a successful exploitation of the American public. In spite of the fact that this Island had always formed an integral part of Cuba, it was advertised throughout the United States as American property, and the flag raised by the Government of Intervention was pointed to as a permanent asset of that particular section.
Again the promoters of this pretentious colonization scheme absolutely ignored the basic principles of success in colony work. In other words they did not take into account that not only was the Isle of Pines devoid of a first-class harbor, but that the chances of securing direct transportation between that section and the United States was decidedly remote.
Through the hypnotic influence of beautifully worded advertisements and attractive pictures, large numbers of settlers from the United States and Canada, especially from Minnesota and the Dakotas, were tempted to locate in the Isle of Pines, or to purchase property, usually on the installment plan, which they had never seen, and for which they paid exorbitant prices.
Tracts that cost from 90 to $1.20 per acre, were divided into 10, 20 and 40 acre farms, and sold at prices ranging from $25 in the beginning up to $75 and even $100 per acre in 1918. These prices have always been out of proportion to the quality of the soil, and the location of the land, since lands far more fertile, and within easy reach of steamers leaving Havana daily, might have been found on the mainland of Cuba, that would give the prospect of a fair chance of success in almost any agricultural undertaking.
Here again the prospective settler was advised to start citrus fruit groves, to the exclusion of forage and other crops from which immediate returns would have encouraged the farmer, and permitted him to live economically while making up his mind as to the advisability of citrus fruit culture, which is a specialized form of horticulture, requiring much technical knowledge, and a great deal of experience to insure satisfactory results.
In the Isle of Pines, as in La Gloria, while many men have been disappointed, and many families have left the country in despair, there still remains a nucleus of hard working, intelligent and enterprising men who, in spite of the disadvantages that will surround them, have made for themselves comfortable homes, and who enjoy the quiet, dreamy life that soon becomes essential to the man who remains long in the tropics.
The Isle of Pines ships a considerable amount of fruit and vegetables each year, through Havana, to markets in the United States. How often the balance may be found on the profit side of the ledger, however, is open to question. The Isle of Pines undoubtedly offers an excellent retreat for those who have become tired of the strenuous life of cities, and who prefer to pass the remainder of their days in pleasant, healthful surroundings. To do this, of course, requires an income that will insure them against any little petty annoyance that might come from a disturbing cyclone, or a low price for grape fruit in northern markets.
The enterprising promoters connected with the early colonization of the Isle of Pines made a second experiment at Herradura, in the Province of Pinar del Rio, 90 miles from the city of Havana by rail. Here they purchased some 22,000 acres of land in 1902, paying, it is said, an average price of a dollar an acre, and started the third American colony in Cuba under the name of Herradura.
In the colonization work, the old La Gloria and Isle of Pines method of advertising was faithfully followed, and with results eminently satisfactory to the promoters, most of whom have acquired comfortable fortunes, at the expense of Americans and Canadians in the United States who were anxious to find homes where they could enjoy life and perhaps prosper in the Tropics.
The larger part of the Herradura tract, especially that which lay along the Western Railroad, was a light sandy soil, used by the natives in the olden days for grazing cattle, and burned over every winter, thus destroying nearly all of the humus in the land. This property was divided into 40-acre tracts and sold at $20 per acre. As soon as the settlers from the United States began to arrive in any numbers, the price was advanced to $40. Citrus fruit was held out to prospective home seekers as the surest means of securing an easy life and a fortune after the first four or five years.
Under favorable conditions, where all the essential elements to success are combined, this is possible. But Herradura did not combine all of the required features, hence hundreds of acres of abandoned groves can be seen along the railroad track for miles, as one enters the Herradura district. The cyclone of 1917 which added the last straw to the proverbial camel's back, in the Isle of Pines, swept across the western end of Pinar del Rio Province also, and only those groves that had been provided with wind-breaks escaped from blight and ruin in the hurricane.
Today there are about 25 families, with perhaps 100 inhabitants, remaining in the colony of Herradura. Some of these settlers, men of experience, who came from the citrus grove districts of Florida, and others who took up general farming on the better lands, some two or three miles north of the railroad, have succeeded, and have built for themselves comfortable homes where rural life is enjoyed to the utmost.
Some of them have their machines with which they can motor over a splendid automobile drive to Havana, and spend a few days in the capital, during the opera season. Nearly all of them have a few saddle horses that furnish splendid exercise and amusement for the younger members of the colony. One of the successful old timers of Herradura is Mr. Earle, formerly chief of the Government Experimental Station at Santiago de Las Vegas, a scientific farmer and a good business man. Mr.
Earle located on good land in a little valley well back from the road, planted 40 acres in citrus fruit and has succeeded where others failed.
On all lands where irrigation is possible, the growing of vegetables, especially peppers and egg plants, has proven very satisfactory. The average number of crates per acre is 350, and a dollar per crate net is the estimated average profit. The irrigation comes either from wells or little streams.
The raising of pigs and poultry has helped greatly all those farmers of Herradura who had the foresight not to neglect the live stock and poultry end in their farming enterprises.
The price of fairly good land in Herradura today is from $25 to $50 per acre. The successful owner of a well cared for citrus grove in this colony values it at $1,500 per acre. The freight on fruit and vegetables from Herradura to the city of Havana over the Western Road, is ten cents per box.
The colony boasts of a very comfortable school house, which also serves as a church and town hall. The old standbys, as they call themselves, seldom complain of their lot, and could hardly be induced to change or seek homes in other localities.
There are some half dozen American and Canadian colonies in the Province of Oriente, most of them scattered along the line of the Cuba Company's railroad that has brought the interior of that province into contact with the seaports of Antilla, on the north coast, and Santiago de Cuba on the south. The colony of Bartle is the westernmost, located about fifty miles from the borderline between that province and Oriente.
The Bartle tract consisted originally of 5,000 acres, 3,000 of which lie north of the railroad and the remainder extending toward the south. Most of the land is covered with a heavy forest of hard woods and the work of clearing is a serious proposition, although the soil, once freed from stumps, is exceptionally rich and productive. Less than 2,000 acres have been cleared up to the present, and some three or four hundred have been planted in citrus fruit. Good water is found at a depth of 25 feet.
There are approximately 200 permanent residents in this little settlement, which has been laid out to advantage with its Plantation House, hotel, church, stores, etc., and a very neat railway station. The buildings are nearly all frame, painted white with green trimmings. In Bartle, as in all colonial settlements in Cuba up to the present, the planting of citrus fruit seems to have been the aim and ambition of the settlers, who are about evenly divided between Canadians and Americans.
Just south of Bartle are a number of small estates on land that belonged to the late Sir Wm. Van Horne, father of the Cuba Company Railroad.
Twenty miles further east a colony has been established at Victoria de las Tunas, one of the storm centers of the various revolutionary movements on the part of the Cubans against Spanish control. There are some 800 or 900 acres of citrus fruit groves, in various stages of production, within a radius of fifteen miles surrounding the town of Victoria de las Tunas. In nearly all of the American and Canadian colonies in the Province of Oriente, settlers have learned, at times through bitter experience, that it was an economical mistake to devote all of their energies to the production of citrus groves that could give them no returns inside of five years, and that, with the exception of the local markets of Camaguey, Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba, neither oranges nor lemons would bring a sufficient price to pay for the cost of packing, transportation and sale. Grape fruit usually yielded a profit, if the market happened to be just right; or in other words, if competing shipments from Florida and California did not lower the price below the margin of profit.
Twenty-two miles still further east we find the colony of Omaja, boasting a population of nearly 300 people, most of whom are Americans, although a number are from England and Canada. A small group of hard working Finlanders, too, have joined their fortunes with the settlers of Omaja. The surrounding country is quite attractive, and was at one time a huge cattle ranch, covering some 50,000 acres of land, divided between heavy forests and open savannas.
Omaja has the usual complement of post-office, school-house, churches and stores, with a sufficient variety of creeds to satisfy almost any community. Some 700 or 800 acres of citrus fruit have been planted in Omaja, about one-half of which is grape-fruit and Valencia oranges.
Omaja has an encouraging amount of social and musical activity which lightens the more serious burdens of life in the colony.
Some 30 miles north of Santiago de Cuba, and 50 miles south of Antilla, the shipping point on Nipe Bay, are two small colonies only a few miles apart known as Paso Estancia and Bayate. There are some 40 or 50 permanent settlers in Paso Estancia, Americans, Canadians and English.
They have made clearings in the thick virgin forests and made for themselves comfortable and rather artistic little homes; frame buildings covered with zinc roofs, perched on hillsides, convenient to swift running streams.
The "Royal Palm" Hotel, a cement building, furnishes accommodations for newcomers and guests. The view from the hotel, looking across a delightful panorama of forest covered hills and valleys, gives a certain lasting charm to the vicinity.
The settlers of this section evidently were advised of the mistakes made in other parts of the Island, and while the growing of citrus fruits seems to have been the main object, food products, corn, vegetables, coffee, cacao, cattle, hogs and forage were not neglected.
A few miles south is the colony of Bayate, settled very largely by Swedish Americans, whose programme has been quite a departure from that of other colonists in Cuba. Their children are being taught Spanish in the schools so that they may bring their parents more closely in contact with their Spanish speaking neighbors. There are approximately 200 settlers in this community, most of whom have devoted their energies to growing sugar cane, for which the land in the neighborhood is excellently adapted. The Auza mill, twelve miles further down the railroad, buys all of the cane they can raise, giving them in exchange 5-1/2 lbs. of sugar for every 100 pounds of cane. There is a very decent little hotel, built of mahogany and cedar, furnishing accommodations to guests who may happen to stop.
Bayate has its school house, for which the Cuban Government furnishes two teachers, one of whom teaches in Spanish and the other in English.
Most of the settlers have their own cows, pigs and an abundance of chickens. Some of them are planting coffee and cacao on the hill sides.
Two crops of corn may be easily grown in this section, and nothing perhaps in Cuba, brings a better price, especially in the western end of the Island.
It would seem quite probable that general farming will eventually take the place of the citrus fruit grove in Cuba, as a source of permanent income and profit. The demand for sugar, brought about by the European War, greatly increased the acreage of cane, and has undoubtedly saved many American colonies, especially those of Oriente, from economical disaster.
It is to be hoped that the Cuban Government, in the future, may be induced to provide some kind of supervision over projected colonies in regard to the selection of localities, the character of soil, and the election of agricultural undertakings which will insure success. It is the desire of the Government that all homeseekers, if possible, may find life in Cuba both pleasant and profitable, and only in some such way can the mistakes of colonization in the past be avoided.
The History of Cuba Volume V Part 33
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