Santa Isabel is known as the “Land of Champions” and the “City of Colts.” The patron saint is Santiago Apóstol. Santa Isabel covers an area of 88.9 square kilometers (34.2 square miles) and the population is 21,665 residents (2000 Census). The municipality is divided into the sectors of Santa Isabel Pueblo, Playa, Boca Velázquez, Descalabrado, Jauca I, Jauca II, Felicia I and Felicia II.
A wide variety of vegetables and tropical fruits are grown in Santa Isabel. Large swaths of land are dedicated to agriculture, which is one of the main sources of income in the municipality. There are also several manufacturing factories that produce clothing, electrical and electronic equipment, metal products and food products.
Santa Isabel is bordered on the north by the municipality of Coamo, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, on the east by the municipality of Salinas and on the west by Juana Díaz. It is located on the south coast of Puerto Rico in the region known as the southern coastal plain.
Geographically, Santa Isabel is part of the Ponce-Patillas alluvial plain of the southern coastal plain. Its flat and alluvial lands, along with its semi-arid climate, have created some of the most fertile land on the island. The highest elevation in the municipality is the Cerro de las Cuevas, located in the northeast of the Jauca II sector. This peak reaches approximately 984 feet (300 meters) above sea level.
The municipality’s hydrological system consists of the Jueyes River, which is the border with Salinas; the Cayures River, which empties into Rincón Bay; the Coamo River, which crosses the municipality from north to southwest and empties into the Caribbean Sea; and the Descalabrado River, which is the border with the municipality of Juana Díaz. To the east of the mouth of the Descalabrado River are Cortada Beach and Cayito Point, and to the southwest is Berbería Key.
The Santa Isabel beach, the Petrona and Aguila points, Jauca Bay and Rincón Bay are located in Santa Isabel and Salinas. Off of Petrona Point are the keys of Caracoles, Cabezazos and Alfeñique and to the east of Jauca Bay is the Los Puercos islet.
Among the natural resources of the municipality is one the four segments of the Aguirre Forest. The Punta Petrona wetlands are located in the western part of the forest, on the Santa Isabel coast. These wetlands consist of salt flats, coastal forests and mangroves. Other mangrove swamps can be found in Jauca Bay and adjacent keys, on Berbería Key and at Cortada Beach. These mangrove stands, along with those of Petrona Point, cover an area of 250 hectares.
During the pre-Columbian era, this area was well populated by the Taino Indians because of the fertility of the land and the easy access to fresh water bodies and the sea. The area under the same chief extended through what we know today as Juana Díaz and Ponce. Because of the number of indigenous archaeological findings, we know that indigenous settlements existed in the Boca Velásquez sector, on the banks of the Descalabrado River, behind the Colonia Useras (in the Gabia sector), near the mountains in the Peñuelas sector, in Pollar (today the Reparto la Hacienda area in the Jauca sector), on the sites of the former Jauca, Alomar and Florida plantations, and also in Los Indios sector and in Cayito on the Santa Isabel beach.
The territory that is today known as the municipality of Santa Isabel was originally known as Playa de Coamo or Coamo Abajo and was part of the rural zone of Coamo. Its location near the sea made it very vulnerable to attacks by the Carib Indians and pirates. For that reason, many residents decided to settle in Coamo or its outskirts, instead of in the area of Coamo Abajo. Not until the 18th century were numerous ranches for raising cattle and horses established in the flat lands of the south. Several plantations were also established, mainly for growing coffee and tobacco.
On May 22, 1841, Santa Isabel resident Antonio Vélez, speaking on behalf of the other residents, asked the governor of the island, Santiago Méndez Vigo, to authorize the founding of a town separate from Coamo. The distance to the center of the municipality of Coamo was given as the reason for the separation. A year later, on October 5, 1842, Santa Isabel was separated from Coamo and became a town. It was named in honor of Queen Isabel of Spain. The same year, the town council was officially created, with Juan José Cabrera elected as secretary.
Progress was slow on the municipal structures that had to be built as part of the requirements for founding the town. In 1841, there was only a small wood structure where the priest from Coamo occasionally held mass. It was not until 1870 that construction of the Catholic church began, but because of a series of setbacks, caused both by nature and by financial problems, the structure was not completed until 1899.
In 1853, the town had two main streets, Marina and Culebra, with 23 wooden houses and 20 huts, though there was still no public school. In 1878, according to the chronicler Ubeda y Delgado, the municipality had 2,225 residents. At the time, it consisted of the sectors of Boca Velázquez, Descalabrado, Felicia, Jauca and Playa.
By 1898, the organization of the municipality had changed and it consisted of the sectors of Pueblo, Playa, Felicia, Jauca, Boca Velázquez and Descalabrado. Twelve years later, Felicia and Jauca were subdivided into Felicia I and II, and Jauca I and II. This political organization lasted until 1948, when the Puerto Rico Planning Board expanded the urban zone of the municipality by adding part of the rural sectors of Boca Velázquez, Felicia I and Playa.
Sugar cane was grown in Santa Isabel for decades, due to the municipality’s fertile land. It was actively grown until the 1980s. In the second half of the 19th century, there were four sugar plantations: Carmen, which belonged to Manuel Cividanes; Destino, owned by the Capó heirs; Santa Isabel, owned by Alomar Hermanos; and Florida, founded in 1883 by the Valdivieso brothers. The Central Cortada sugar mill operated from 1908 to 1974 in the municipality.
In 1941, these extensive landholdings were split up due to the lands law. By the middle of the 1970s, 196,849 tons of sugar cane were harvested, producing 16,107 tons of sugar. In the same era, the Land Authority operated the Vegetable Products Program, which promoted production of huge quantities of peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and other crops.
By the end of the 20th century, Santa Isabel also had several factories producing shoes, bras, embroidered items and canned goods. It also has a very prestigious equestrian industry. Many purebred horses used mainly for racing have come from horse farms in the municipality.
The municipality’s flag is divided into three horizontal bands of the same width: white above, yellow in the center, and red below. In the center are two sugar cane stalks. The colors have the same significance as in the coat of arms.
Coat of Arms
The colors and figures on the coat of arms represent the name of the town, the date of its founding, its patron saint and the highest authorities under which its government was established. Santa Isabel is symbolized by the “I” and by the medieval type crown. The silver and red colors represent purity and charity, virtues of the princess Santa Isabel. Santiago Apóstol is represented by the scalloped shells, which are designated in heraldry with the Christian names of Santiago or Peregrino, as they were the emblems of pilgrims, pilgrimages and sanctuaries in the Middle Ages. In Spain, the shells were identified with the famous pilgrimages to Compostela and with Santiago Apóstol. The shells also represent the wealth of Taino archaeological sites in Santa Isabel. These sites are often called concheros, because of the abundance of shells, or conchas, that are found there. Also, pearls were often sought in the past in the waters along the Santa Isabel coast. The gold and red colors of the coat of arms and the crowned wall represent the Spanish origins of the founders of Santa Isabel. The crowned wall is the symbol of towns and municipalities. The sugar cane stalks that surround the coat of arms allude to what was formerly the main agricultural product of Santa Isabel and to the characteristic elements of its landscape.
1842 José María Colón
1847 José Alomar
1852 Marcelino Castro y José Joaquín Mayoral
1853 Antonio Acosta y Rafael Gomez
1854 Juan E. Tinajero
1856 Diego Arteaga
1859 José de la O Ruiz
1868 ángel María Corvacho, Pablo Costa y Trullols, José Perignat Ochoa
1871 Casiano Balbas y Antonio Velez
1872 Eusebio Sosa Rámos y Francisco Famania
1873 Cleobulino Colon y Manuel Brau y Battle
1876 Diego Arteaga y Casiano Balbas
1878-1882 Froilán Santana
1883 Rafael M. Descartes y Manuel Sánchez Gil
1886 Enrique Acuña
1888 Froilán Santana
1891 Joaquin Aldea Berenguer
1894 Jose Manuel Usera
1895 Juan G. Famanía
1896-1900 José Ovidio Colón
1900-1902 Juan J. Famanía
1902-1906 Pedro María Descartes
1906-1908 ángel Bernabé Torres
1908-1914 José Santiago Rivera
1914-1921 Manuel R. Rodríguez
1921-1925 Buenaventura Rodríguez
1925-1927 Modesto Vélez
1927 Sinforiano Burgos
1928 Manuel N. Rodríguez
1928-1932 Buenaventura Rodríguez
1936-1944 Miguel Rivera Meléndez
1944-1945 Julio Conde
1945-1953 Francisco Robledo
1953-1961 Félix Santi
1961-1965 Antonio Vázquez
1965-1968 Francisco Robledo
1968-1969 Hilda E. Santiago
1969-1973 Vicente Colón Gautier
1973-1977 Fidel Rivera Romero
1977-1981 Vicente Colón Gautier
1981-1992 Fidel Rivera Romero
1992-1996 Roque Delpín Reyes
1996-2005 ángel Sánchez Bermúdez
2005-currently Enrique Questell Alvarado
Enrique Questell Alvarado
Place of Interest
• Aguirre Forest
• Indigenous Museum
• Jauca Beach
• Ruins of the Alomar Estate
Rafael Hernández Usera – Writer and essayist.
Francisco Anselmi – Senator and delegate to the Commonwealth Constituent Convention.
José Mimoso Raspaldo – Member of the House of Representatives and delegate to the Puerto Rico Commonwealth Constituent Convention in the middle of the 20th century.
Adolfo Monserrate Anselmi – Member of the House of Representatives and president of the Pharmacists Association of Puerto Rico in the middle of the 20th century.
Efraín Bermúdez Rivera – Farmer and lawyer. Member of the House of Representatives in the 1980s.
Three Kings Festival – January
El Indio Carnival – January
Crab Festival – June
Patron Saint Festival – July
Pine Carnival – November
Turkey Festival – November
Note: These articles have been edited and checked by academics and specialists in History. Discrepancies may exist among historians regarding some data.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 13, 2010.
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