During the last two decades of the 19th century, coffee was the main export crop grown in Puerto Rico. Coffee was grown in the mountainous regions of the island on farms and country estates. These properties produced large amounts of coffee. The productivity and the organization of labor defined these farms. The cultivation, processing and sale of coffee were the principal occupations of the coffee estates.
The estates consisted of small or medium-sized communities that were economically dependent on coffee production. They varied in size. Each estate strived to be self-sufficient and used a variety of means at hand to meet its needs. Whenever possible, basic materials were obtained from the farm itself: wood for construction of the housing, furniture, buildings, and machinery; and stone, lime, and sand for the construction of tanks, floors, and the drying platform. Sunlight was used to dry the coffee and water and wind power were used to drive the machinery.
In general, the nucleus or center of the estate consisted of a group of structures surrounded by the coffee plants. In this central area were the machinery house, where the coffee was de-pulped, the drying platform, the electric dryers, the warehouses and the stables. Near this working area were the greenhouse and the big house, where the owner lived. Near the big house were small houses for the sharecroppers, dormitories for laborers and the superintendent’s house. The estates had one company store where workers bought merchandise using vouchers or tokens. Some also had a bakery for bread, a saw mill, and even a sugar cane press for producing sugar and rum.
The big house was the main structure on the estate. Generally it was built of wood and the roof, with two or four gables, was made of corrugated metal. It was built on a base of masonry or reinforced concrete and wood joists that supported wood floors. It had a porch that ran the length of the front of the building, and sometimes extended around all four sides, with several double doors opening onto it. The architectural details were similar to those found on many houses of well-to-do families on the island and the quality of the construction was high.
Most of the big houses were rectangular and the typical layout consisted of a main central space for the living room and anteroom or dining room with areas for bedrooms on each side that connected to the center. Some had a rear gallery, where the kitchen, storage, service rooms, and bathroom were located, which gave the main floor an “L” shape.
In this type of rural agriculture, it was important that the housing be integrated with the cropland. The location of the big house was important and it was placed on a central point with a view of the other structures and surrounding activities so they could be supervised. Sometimes, a single building with various uses was constructed. If the big house was a two-story building, the machinery room, warehouse, administrative offices and the store for workers were located on the first level. In other cases, the big house was independent from the rest of the buildings.
The superintendent’s house was a simple building generally made of wood with a corrugated metal roof. It was the typical house in the local style found in the towns of the island. It was more highly finished and detailed than the housing set aside for the sharecroppers. It had a porch, high ceilings, and a more spacious layout.
The houses of the sharecroppers or other workers were simple and modest homes of wood frame construction with zinc sheets as walls. They were generally raised on wood stilts with a single gable roof. These houses were distributed around the farm and, sometimes, in the community.
The barracks were dormitories for laborers or migrant workers who came from other towns during the harvest. They were simple, rectangular structures built of wood with a zinc roof with two gables. The workers slept in hammocks or in beds built along the walls. Each barracks could house 60 to 80 workers.
The warehouse and machinery room were the center of activity on the estate. The structure was built with a frame of local wood and walls covered with sheets of zinc with a floor of masonry or reinforced concrete. The machinery room was well ventilated with many windows and doors. Sometimes, the machinery room, warehouse, and big house were all integrated into the same structure. When the machinery room was an independent structure, it was a rectangular building with two or three stories, with or without an attic. In some cases there was an area within the machinery room that was used as a dormitory for migrant workers.
The drying platform was an open space of considerable size, built of lime, stone, earth and brick, and was used to dry the coffee in the sun. It had a slight incline and a perimeter wall that allowed it to drain. The bricks were made in ovens on the estate itself or on a nearby estate. The drying platform was also seen as the plaza of the small community. Because of its size and location, it was used as an area for meetings and activities.
At night and when it rained, the coffee had to be collected to protect it. Therefore, mobile drying platforms were developed that consisted of drawers or crates on rails. Coffee was spread out in each drawer and, if there was any problem, it was stored. These mobile platforms were generally built in a separate structure, under the house, or in a warehouse.
All of the estates had an area for administration and payments. This could have been be an independent structure similar to a small house without a porch, with a window identified for payments. It also might have been integrated into the other structures.
The company store provided daily necessities for both the workers on the estate and the surrounding farms that did not have a store or whose provisions were not sufficient. In general, the workers had to use vouchers or tokens instead of money to buy provisions. In this way, the owner retained control of the workers, as they were obligated to buy at the company store.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Maricao y sus haciendas cafetaleras, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Western Regional Center, project sponsored by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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