Caguas is a city and municipality in the Central Mountain Range of Puerto Rico. Located approximately 30 minutes from both the west and east coast, San Juan lies to the north, Gurabao and San Lorenzo to the west, with Cayey to the South and Aguas Buenas to the east.
The municipality covers 153 square kilometres of terrain, which lies in in a flat, fertile valley called Valle de Turabo. The main water system in the region is Rio Grande de Loiza, the largest river in Puerto Rico, which forms a natural border between Caguas and Gurabao. Other rivers include Rio Turabo, Rio Caguitas, Río Cañaboncito, Río Bairoa and Río Cañas.
The highest points in Caguas are Lucero Hill which reaches 700 metres above sea level, and La Mesa and San Luis Hills, which has their peaks at 369 and 270 meters above sea level.
The History of Caguas, Puerto Rico
After the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1400s, the area which is now known as Caguas, Puerto Rico, was quickly identified as a suitable zone for agriculture due to its fertile soils and ample water supplies and settlers began to move inland. Of course, Caguas was already home to the native inhabitants of Puerto Rico, the Taino people. The cacique (chief) was called Caguax.
The history relating to Caguax is limited and subject to bias from the authors. A common belief is that Caguax did not resist the arrival of the Spaniards but took their side, accepting the cultural and lifestyle changes that they enforced. Others believe that by attempting to co-operate and accept the settlers, Caguax was doing his best to protect his people. In fact, several sources suggest that Caguax was involved in the 1511 Taino uprisings, disappearing from records shortly after.
Caguax’s heir was his daughter (some sources say niece) called Maria Baguanamay. She was amongst the first of the Taino people to submit to conversion to the Catholic religion . The marriage of Taino women and European men became a fairly common practice which the Catholic Church encouraged in order to aid control of the Taino. Maria was married to a Spanish butler called Diego Muriel and had three children.
It was not until 1626 when an Royal Decree gave official permission for Sebastien Delgado de Riviera to adopt the region which is now Caguas for cattle grazing. The population began to grow as workers settled and the area became known as Hato Grande de Los Delgado with the hermitage San Sebastien de Barrero at its centre.
By 1729, a another small hermitage called Aldea de Pinal was built and became the new focal point of the community. However, hurricane damage on several occasions led the people to move back to San Sebastien de Barrero and put forward a request to have it officially named as a population.
On January 1st 1775, Caguas was founded as San Sebastián del Piñal de Caguax – taking the name of the former cacique. The land was given to the Spanish army captain Don Juan Mateo Delgado de Fonseca in honour of his work in defending Puerto Rico against other European invaders. By 1776, Fray Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra described Caguas as having 136 houses and a population of approximately 640 inhabitants.
The population continued to grow and in 1779, Caguas given official status as a village. In 1820, Caguax became a town and by 1878 it had grown to become home to as many as 16,000 inhabitants, with 388, mostly rural houses. Many of the inhabitants were Africans who had been brought to Puerto Rico as slaves to work in sugar mills, and mixed-heritage Creoles.
In 1894, Caguas finally achieved official status as a city. In the early 1900s, the sugar industry began to make an impact on the area, creating work and stimulating the economy.
Around 1906, the Santa Juana Sugar Mill was opened by a group of Belgians who called themselves the “ Societe Anonyme Des Sucreries de Saint Jean”. The mill provided employment for many and was a major factor in the development of the railway system between Caguas and San Juan. By 1922, the Santa Juana was the 8th largest sugar producer in Puerto Rico, however, in 1927 it was sold to the United Porto Rican Sugar Company. Unfortunately, hurricanes, strikes and economic depression from the late 20s into the 1930s saw sugar production drop and by 1967, the factory closed down
Today, Caguas has a large and vibrant population of approximately 142, 678 (Census 2011). An industrial and commercial centre, leather goods, medicines and clothing are produced in factories in the city. Tourism also plays an important role in the economy, with the city promoted as the centre of Creole history on the island.
Caguas, Puerto Rico – The Ciudad Criolla
Caguas is often called Ciudad Criolla, the Creole City. Creole heritage combines European, Taino and African background. The Creole history of Caguas is celebrated with commemorative gateways at the four entries to the city. At the north gateway a Maria Elena Perales bronze sculpture of a Taino woman with open arms greets visitors.
The west gateway, in the botanical gardens celebrates Criolle heritage, the south European and to the east, African culture is remembered with statues of Bomba dancers and the Negros with Wings mosaic with images of significant Puerto Rican personalities.
Places of Interest
The main attractions of Caguas, Puerto Rico have been combined in a self-guided tour called The Route of the Creole Heart (Ruta de la Corazon Criolla).
Previously known as the King’s House, Caguas Museum and City Hall presents artefacts and information on the history of the region, from the Taino to present day.
Herminio Torres Grillo Tobacco Museum opened in 2000 in a building that was once a blacksmith’s workshop. Named for the poet Herminio Torres, the museum provides demonstrations in cigar-making as well as exhibitions on tobacco agriculture and processing.
The Caguas Art Museum features works from Carlos Osorio and other Puerto Rican artists in a variety of styles and mediums.
Located in the former General Cigar company building and named for a popular mayor, the Eng. Angel Berrios Fine Arts Centre has several halls dedicated to Puerto Rican fine art.
House of the Troubadour Pico de Oro is dedicated to the history of the Puerto Rican troubadour.
The Composer’s House is the restored residence of neo-classical composer Hector Flores Osuna. Exhibits provide a guide to local music from the danza, bolero and plena to contemporary sounds of hip-hop and reggae.
The Pink House is a small museum focused on the life of folk writer Abelardo Alfaro.
Located in what was formerly the First Baptist Church of Caguas, the Creole Music Centre is an interesting building with Roman and Gothic architectural elements. It has exhibitions on local instruments and music.
Dulce Jesus Cathedral is the the original site of San Sebastian de Barreros hermitage. The current structure dates to 1930.
Santiago R Palmer Plaza is an small recreation area with displays of sculptures, an aviary and ponds.
The Popular Arts Museum features arts and crafts created by local artisans, many using traditional techniques and materials.
Jardin Botanico y Cultural De William Miranda Marin
Another highlight of Caguas, Puerto Rico is the Botanical & Cultural Gardens. Named for mayor William Miranda Marin, the gardens were opened in 2007 with an aim of combining cultural and natural history in an educational and beautiful setting. The land was previously owned by Antonio Guarch and location of the San Jose sugar cane mill (ruins of which can be spotted throughout the gardens). The gardens are open from Thursday to Sunday from 10am until 4pm.
Extending over 60 acres, the gardens are arranged in nine themed groves. The Taino Grove has a collection of contemporary sculptures including pieces by Juan Santos Torres. In the African Grove, 40 African plant species are on show, alongside a magnificent bronze sculpture by Samuel Lind of Loiza. In the Conscience Grove,endangered tree species are the main feature, while the Jibaro and Family Farming Grove recreates a peasant house and garden.
The Artisan Grove celebrates the creativity of Puerto Ricans with statues of saints, musical instruments, masks and more. Local tree species are grown in the Criolle Grove and endemic plants are nurtured in the Heritage Grove. Other areas include a fruit orchard with 50 trees, palm and bamboo plantations and an urban agriculture zone with tropical fish ponds. The gardens also connect with the “Honour the River” Boardwalk scheme along the banks of Rio Caguitas.
Interesting Facts About Caguas
The Criollas de Caguas baseball team has has significant success, winning 14 Puerto Rican titles and 3 Caribbean World Series.
The Creole cultural heritage of Caguas Puerto Rico is celebrated with an annual festival and ongoing events throughout the year. The city celebrates is patron saint festivities ( Nuestra Senora del Carmen) in July.
People from Caguas are called Cagüeños.
Created in 1950 the Caguas, Puerto Rico coat of arms is designed to honour both the Taino and European heritage of the city. The shield has a blue base with three golden arrows forming a St Sebastian’s cross. A crown represents the cacique Caguax, with pineapples and a section of castle wall completing the representations of the municipality. The flag features the shield on a background of blue, with another cross of arrows.
Notable People from Caguas, Puerto Rico
Several significant Puerto Ricans were born in Caguas.
Abelardo Diaz Alfaro July 24, 1919 – July 22, 1999. Author, best known for his work Campo Alegre.
José Gautier Benítez April 12, 1849 – January 24, 1880. Poet of the Romantic Era.
Juan José Osuna, June 24 1884 – 19 June, 1950. Educator and author of A History of Education in Puerto Rico.
Margot Arce de Vazquez March 10, 1904-November 14, 1990. Author and educator who founded the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language.
José Ignacio Quintón February 1, 1881 – December 19, 1925. Pianist and composer.
Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago November 22, 1918 – July 13, 1963. Preacher, and first Caribbean born person to be beatified (blessed by the Catholic Church).
Janice Olivencia September 16, 1982. Professional golfer and first Puerto Rican woman to play in a US Women’s Open Golf Tournament.
Wilnelia Merced October 12, 1957. Winner of 1975 Miss World Title.