Boulevards & Byways

Why you should Visit Puerto Rico’s Sugar Plantation (Hacienda La Esperanza)

Explore the Bitter Taste of History at a Sugar Plantation

Hacienda La Esperanza

In the town of Manati, Puerto Rico, I was fortunate to be able to take a tour of the restored structures of one of the most important sugar plantations of the 19th century, Hacienda La Esperanza. The legacy of this hacienda owes its homage to both the lives of the 170 slaves who worked the land, as well as to a new invention of that time, the steam mill. We’ll explore Puerto Rican history at this sugar plantation.

The rich soils of Hacienda La Esperanza were perfect for sugar cane production and in 1830 Fernando Fernández, a Spanish officer, was able to grow a profitable business due to the demand for sugar by the United States.  Slaves at that time, unfortunately filled the need for this labor-intensive industry, which is why there is the bitter taste of history at this sugar plantation.

Puerto Rican History at a Sugar Plantation

Hacienda La Esperanza
The hacienda sits on the estate of the plantation.

The hacienda sits on the estate of the plantation.

Fernando’s eldest son inherited the estate, and in 1861 installed a West Point Foundry Steam engine.  This highly efficient new machine increased sugar production and he was able to expand to 2,000 acres of planted sugar cane.  This also increased his need for additional slave labor.

 

 

The Bitterness at a Sugar Plantation

Hacienda La Esperanza
A mundillo is on display which lists the complaints of the slaves.

A mundillo is on display which lists the complaints of the slaves.

At the hacienda, complaints from the slaves are poignantly preserved and encased in a large glass case.  The grievances are crafted on what’s called a Mundillo, which is handmade bobbin lace.  The lace is created using wooden bobbins about the diameter of a pencil.  The bobbin is wound with thread, twisted, and crossed to form a design. Depending on the pattern, as few as two dozen or as many as several hundred bobbins may be used. The pattern formed the words of the complaints.

The grievances were about the horrible treatment, the abuse, and the lack of any possible help from authorities. It is very moving to see something so beautifully and intricately woven and at the same time read the vile, heartbreaking and painstaking abuses endured by the slaves.

Impressive Collection of Machetes at

Hacienda La Esperanza
The collection of machetes is an unusual in interesting display.

The collection of machetes is an unusual in interesting display.

There is also an impressive collection of machetes on display.  The machetes used by the slaves were shorter and blunt, making it useless as a weapon, an extremely poor tool and since sugarcane needs to be cut low to the ground, the short blade required the slaves to bend over all day resulting in life-long pain and disfigurement for many.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Steam & Progression at the Plantation

Hacienda La Esperanza
The steam engine at work is a fascinating piece of engineering.

The steam engine at work is a fascinating piece of engineering.

In what are the remains of the sugar mill building is the infamous steam engine which was used to crush the sugar cane in order to release the liquid. Before the steam engine, the sugar cane had to be crushed by hand, a time consuming and labor intensive process.  The highly embellished engine was built in 1861 in Cold Spring, New York by the West Point Foundry, not far from my home.

View this short movie of the sugar mill in action:

Sugar Plantation

The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico fully restored the steam mill and today it is an amazing site to see in action. In 1979, it was even named a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. It is quite mesmerizing to watch all the intricate wheels and pistons turn and rise creating the steam needed to power this immense machine.  This lavishly decorated steam engine is the only West Point Foundry steam engine known to survive.

The Blood Mill and Puerto Rican History

Hacienda La Esperanza
Tour the grounds for other amazing artifacts.

Tour the grounds for other amazing artifacts.

We also toured additional ruins of the sugar mill where the sugar cane juice was boiled.  The original “blood mill,” is also on display.  This manual press was used before the onset of the steam engine to extract the juice out of the sugar cane, oftentimes resulting in crushed hands or arms, thus the name, blood mill.

After the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873, the sugar industry in Puerto Rico crumbled. However, the bitterness still remains as we are reminded of slaves who worked long and hard at this plantation. The hacienda went bankrupt, and in 1879 the land was sold.  Thanks to the Conservation Trust and their mission to conserve natural spaces and educate the public about important historical places, we are able to experience this piece of bitter history at such a sweet location. I recommend a visit to learn about Puerto Rican History at a Sugar Plantation (Hacienda La Esperanza).

 

 Go to Para la Naturaleza.org to make a reservation (required). Tours are available for a small fee in Spanish and English. Hacienda la Esperanza is at 616 Cll La Esperanza, Manatí, 00674, Puerto Rico

The Best Way to Explore Puerto Rico is with a GPS.  I use this one:

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For more information on Puerto Rico Tourism Visit: http://www.seepuertorico.com/

 

For more information about Puerto Rico History visit:

Where to go for Puerto Rican Rum History

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