The municipality of Yauco, Puerto Rico lies on the southern coastal plain of the island, extending inland to the foothills of the Central Mountain Range. Yauco, Puerto Rico is bordered to the north by Maricao, Lares and Adjuntas, to the east by Sabana Grande and Guanica and to the west by Guayanilla, while its coastline meets the Caribbean Sea to the south, a total of 176.5 square kilometers of terrain. Yauco, Puerto Rico consists of 20 wards with Yauco Pueblo as the administrative center, and a population of approximately yaucaňos 42,043 according to the 2010 Census.
The town of Yauco, Puerto Rico is built on a hillside, while the municipality has several high peaks including Mount Membrillo at 1091 metres above sea level, Rodadera Peak at 873 meters above sea level offering views to the south on clear days, and Curet Peak at 819 metres above sea level. Yauco, Puerto Rico also has underground cave systems known as El Convento and El Negro.
Rivers which flow through the municipality of Yauco, Puerto Rico include Rio Yauco, which flows from its source at 660m above sea level in the Central Mountain range, to its mouth in Guayanilla. Rio Loco is another major waterway, said to be named Loco (meaning crazy) for the flash floods which occur during heavy rain storms. Streams in the region of Yauco, Puerto Rico are named Chiquito, Naranjo and Duey.
History of Yauco, Puerto Rico
Taino History in Yauco, Puerto Rico
The history of Yauco, Puerto Rico began in 1508 when Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish conquistador, and his men landed on the island. At this time, Puerto Rico was inhabited by an pre-Arawak group who called themselves Taíno.
The Taíno called Puerto Rico Boriken, and the island was divided into territories, each with its own leader, or Cacique in the Taíno language. When Ponce de Leon arrived in Puerto Rico, he disembarked close to the area which was ruled by the leader of all Caciques on Boriquen – Agüeybana.
Historians believe that the Taíno were at first accepting of the arrival of the European’s on their island, and that it is likely that the Taíno thought that the newcomers were gods. Records show that Ponce de Leon and Agüeybana participated in a traditional ceremony of greeting and that Agüeybana’s mother was baptized into the Catholic faith, while the cacique also supplied the Spaniard with men to act as guides.
Despite what seemed like a positive beginning, Ponce de Leon’s arrival in Puerto Rico signalled an end to the traditional Taíno way of life. The Taíno people were forced to work for the Spanish, and were forced to abandon their religious beliefs, and discontent quickly brought tensions to boiling point. After Agüeybana’s death in 1510, his role was inherited by his nephew, named Agüeybana II. Agüeybana II had begun to have some doubts about whether the Europeans were truly gods and set out to find proof.
A group of Taíno men were instructed to discover whether the Spaniards could be killed, and a man called Diego Salcedo was drowned. When they were satisfied that the man’s body would not come back to life, it became clear to the Taíno that their new masters could be defeated. This eventually led to the Taíno rebellion of 1511, which was quickly suppressed by the better armed Spanish. Amongst the men killed during the rebellion was Agüeybana II.
By 1512, Puerto Rico had been divided into two zones, one headed by San Juan, and the other San German, which included Yauco, however it was not until the mid 1750s that the local community demanded to be recognised as a settlement by the Spanish Crown. By 1755, a population had grown in the area of Yauco, Puerto Rico, the name of which came from the Taino name from region –coayuco meaning yucca plantation.
Fernando de Pacheco, acting as representative of the town, approached the governor Felipe de Estenos for permission to found the settlement and on February 29 1756, Yauco, Puerto Rico became an official town.
Corsicans, Coffee & Yauco
One of the most significant periods in the history of Yauco, Puerto Rico was between the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The area saw a huge influx of immigrants from the island of Corsica, who went on to make their homes in the town. These people were to have significant influence on the development of Yauco, along with the economy and culture of the island.
From around 1830 to 1900, large numbers of Corsicans took advantage of the Royal Decree of Graces 1815, which allowed people from Catholic countries to reside in the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Decree had been designed to help Spain protect her overseas territories, but appeared to provide a route of escape from a difficult time in Europe for the Corsica’s.
The Second Industrial Revolution, a cholera epidemic and failed crops were causing family run farms to close down in Corsica, and a move to Puerto Rico must have seemed like a golden opportunity. The terms of the Decree granted each Corsican migrant an area of land, providing that they swore allegiance to the Spanish Crown and Catholic Church.
The Corsican people tended to settle around the area of Yauco, with some historians suggesting that they were obligated to take the land and made the best of it, while others explain that the Corsicans chose the land according to its suitability for agricultural use. Whatever the true story, it is clear even today that Yauco, Puerto Rico became a profitable home for many Corsican inhabitants with some people referring to the town by the nickname Ciudad Corso.
In the early years, the main crops grown by the Corsicans in Yauco, Puerto Rico were cotton, tobacco and sugar, however it was coffee that would make the name “Yauco” recognisable across the globe. The success of the coffee industry in Yauco, Puerto Rico has also led to another nickname – Ciudad de la Cafe.
Coffee plants were first brought to Puerto Rico in 1736, but had remained a minor crop until the Corsican coffee growers started planting. The first plantations were set up in virgin forest at elevations of around 200 – 600 metres above sea level, in the neighbourhoods of Ranchero and Diego Hernandez. By the 1860s, seven of the ten coffee plantations on Puerto Rico were owned by Corsican settlers, while others Corsicans set up business with grocery stores and other businesses.
In 1860, the invention of a coffee de-husking machine by a Corsican, took the coffee industry of Yauco, Puerto Rico to the next level. Angel Pedro Agostini Natali used a converted coffee gin to peel the coffee, the results being a better flavour and visual appeal. With this new machine improving the coffee of Yauco, Puerto Rico, several coffee making families decided to sent representatives to promote their coffee in Europe. This plan proved to be successful as the coffee sold at high prices over seas and by the 1890s, Puerto Rico was the sixth largest coffee producer in the world.
Despite the early successes of the coffee industry, pressures were felt after two hurricanes destroyed crops in 1898. It took around two years for the coffee farmers to reach previous levels of production, by which time the presence of the US in Puerto Rico would also take its toll. Coffee prices dropped as the USA bought their coffee from cheaper producers like Brazil. However, coffee from Yauco, Puerto Rico remained popular in Europe, and ensured that the farmers continued to grow the crop. Today, coffee from Yauco, Puerto Rico is produced in limited amounts, making it an exclusive treat for connoisseurs of the brew which is as rich in flavour as it is in history.
Political History in Yauco, Puerto Rico
Yauco, Puerto Rico was the site of the second and final attempt to challenge Spanish rule on the island. The Attempted Coup on Yauco, Intentona de Yauco, came on the heels of the Grito de Lares – the first, and failed, revolt which took place in a nearby town.
Many of the leaders of the Grito de Lares had moved to New York, but having formed the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, were able to advise their comrades on the island on how to go about their plans. Antonio Mattei Lluberas, Meteo Mercado and Fidel Velz along with around 60 others from Yauco, Puerto Rico and the surrounding areas planned to take offensive action against their Spanish rulers.
However, the mayor of Yauco heard rumour of the plans and went to the governor with the information. On discovering that their plans had been uncovered, the Intentona went ahead earlier than planned. On March 26 1897, the men marched on the town on Yauco, unveiling for the first time the design of the Puerto Rican which is used today. The demonstration was short-lived though, as the Spanish forces quickly arrested and imprisoned more than 150 of the participants. In the same year, Spain finally granted Puerto Rico autonomy, and those who had been incarcerated for their role in the Intentona were pardoned and released.
In July 1898, Yauco, Puerto Rico was the scene for another battle – but this time between the people of Puerto Rico and the US military. As part of the Spain/US war, General Miles had landed with his men in Guanica. Records show that the lighthouse keeper from Guanica was able to send warning to the mayor of Yauco, who in turn contacted the governor with the news. Local forces were gathered and posted on the road between Guanica and Yauco, but were unable to prevent the US military from passing and taking over the town.
Places to Visit in Yauco, Puerto Rico
The town of Yauco is famous for its distinctive Corsican ambience, which owes much to the influence of the immigrants of the late 18th century. There are many well-preserved examples of 20th Century architecture throughout the town, while the stepped steps lend a old-world feel.
Centro de Arte Alejandro
Purchased by the government of Yauco in 1993, the Centro de Arte Alejandro was built in 1907 and was the first house in Puerto Rico to have electricity. The building is sited on a corner with an entrance on both streets, and its original owner frequently hosted meetings of local artists in the building. The interior of the property retains many beautiful features including murals by Roberto Rios and paintings by the Polish artist, H. Shoutka.
Casa Antonio Lluberas (Cesari House)
Known by locals as “The House with Twelve Doors”, Cesari house was built by Antonio Lluberas in 1893. It was later purchased by the Cesari family, whose business was sugar production. The building has ornate metalwork balconies which were prefabricated in France and was constructed with a flat roof and wooden beams, a new method at the time.
Chalet Amill was designed by the architect Tomas Olivari Santori for Angel Antongiorgi Paoli in 1914. Paoli gave the building to his daughter as a wedding gift, however the marriage did not last long, and the house was converted into a hotel in the 1920s. The Beux-Artes style building has stained glass windows which were imported from Belgian, while the interior floors are covered with locally produced decorative tiles.
Mansion Negroni (Casa Agostini)
Mansion Negroni was built in the 1850s by Antonio Francisco Negroni Mattei and came into the posession of the Agostini family by marriage. The Agostini family were exporters of coffee and as such, the mansion was used not only as a home but also as a coffee warehouse and processing space.
The many contributions to the development, culture and history of Yauco, Puerto Rico by the people of Corsica are remembered with a memorial at Plaza Fernando Pacheco. The commemorative plaque states “ To the memory of our citizens of Corsican origin, France, who in C19 became rooted in our village, who have enriched our culture with their traditions and helped our progress with their dedicated work – the municipality of Yauco pays them homage”
Yauco, Puerto Rico also has a number of other interesting attractions for visitors to the island.
The Ideal Theatre is currently closed for restoration, but in the 1930s was a cultural centre in the region. Designed by Jesus Bull Lluberas and commissioned by the Yauco Moving Pictures Company, the building also served as a base for political meetings such as the Partido Liberal General Assembly of 1936.
Volkylandia is an attraction with a difference – a collection of 200 Volkswagen vehicles, memorabilia and more, in a museum set up to look like a typical Puerto Rican town. The ever-growing collection of cars is curated by Dr Norman Gonazalez Chacon, a lifelong VW aficionado, and includes a vehicle used in the Tom Cruise film, Valkyrie.
For those who prefer to be closer to nature, Yauco, Puerto Rico will not disappoint. Guilarte National Forest is divided between the municipality’s of Yauco, Guayanilla, Penuelas and Adjunatas and has been a dedicated area of forest conservation since 1935. The humid, subtropical forest is home to more than 100 different tree species, while 26 bird varieties have been identified in this habitat.
The highest point of Guilarte is Monte Guilarte, and at 1204 metres above sea level, it is one of the highest mountains on the island. Visitors to Guilarte Forest can hike the area, although camping is not allowed. Susua Forest between Yauco and Sabana Grande is another popular recreational area, covering 3,245 acres and with forest tracks which attract mountain bikers and hikers.
Like most of Puerto Rico’s lakes, Luchetti Reservoir is man-made. Constructed in 1952 to generate electricity, the lake has a 67 square kilometre surface area, and only holds around 55% of its original water capacity due to sedimentary build up. The lake is used for recreational activities, in particular fishing for species including peacock bass, sunfish, catfish and tilapia. Also worth seeing is Loco Reservour, built in 1951 with a 17 square kilometer surface area and also used for fishing.
A natural area of beauty can be found at La Ballena Bay between Yauco and Guanica. After the discussion about the development of a tourist resort in the area during the early 1990s, the land was protected by The Conservation Trust and the National Heritage Program of Puerto Rico Department of Natural Environmental Resources.
Habitats in this 162 acre reserve include mangrove forest, lagoons, islets and coastal scrub, while crested toad, Puerto Rican nightjar, yellow shouldered blackbird and manatee are amongst the endangered species which have been identified in the area.
Interesting Facts About Yauco, Puerto Rico
To the southern end of Yauco, visitors cannot fail to notice a hillside covered in vibrantly colored homes. The buildings were decorated as part of a project funded by the local government of Yauco, Puerto Rico. The aim of painting each home in these magnificent tones was to increase civic pride in the town and improve tourism in the area, and therefore the economy. The colors chosen are said to represent the colors seen on coffee plants.
The flag of Yauco, Puerto Rico is made up of two horizontal stripes, yellow at the top and black at the base. These colours were chosen to represent sugar and coffee, two of the main crops of the area. In the centre of the flag is the shield of Yauco. The shield is divided into four by a Christian cross, with coffee plants and beans in two quarters. The remaining quarters show a seven necked pot containing seven serpents, which is from the coat of the arms of the Pachecho family. The design is topped with a three towered building to represent Yauco’s status as a town.
Yauco hosts its annual coffee festival at the end of the crop in February. Locals and visitors from elsewhere on the island flock to Yauco to enjoy traditional music, dancing, processions, typical foods and, of course, coffee!
Famous People from Yauco, Puerto Rico
Loida Figueroa – poet, historian, political activist and author of “A Brief History of Puerto Rico”
Francisco Lluch Mora – poet and author of town hymn “Canto a Yauco”
Ismael Velez – scientist, researcher and botanist
Antonio Mattei Lluberas – one of the leaders of the Intentona de Yauco and later mayor of Yauco