These so-called "company towns" arose during the second half of the 19th century when many countries, including the United States, began to industrialize. The huge factories established communities around their facilities to ensure availability of labor. By supplying jobs to the workers and fulfilling their basic needs, they promoted loyalty to the company among the laborers.
In 1899, a group of investors from the United States acquired the Aguirre Plantation, along with other adjacent plantations, to create a mechanized central mill. El Batey Central Aguirre, the name of the town, was developed around 1900. The layout of the town had certain peculiarities, as it combined elements of U.S. urban design from the early 20th century with elements from the Caribbean. The complex of buildings was much more than a factory producing sugar. It was a semi-autonomous world, created by the dominant business consortium.
The town was divided into two residential areas: one for the people from the United States and another for the Puerto Ricans. The houses were also arranged based on the position held by the worker in the organization. The children from the United States and the children of the Puerto Rican workers also studied in separate buildings.
The Aguirre community, located in the north part of the town, was the residential zone reserved for the administrative and technical personnel, mostly from the United States. The area had a curved layout that was based on the geography of the sector. The houses, separated from each other, were built in the colonial bungalow style. They were made of wood with roofs of corrugated galvanized metal sheets.
In the southeastern part of the town was Montesoria, a residential zone for the factory workers, who were mostly Puerto Ricans. The residential sectors were separated by municipal highway 705, which served as the dividing line between the communities. The road ended at the town plaza, which was used mainly by the residents of Montesoria for talks, dances and other activities.
The Montesoria zone, laid out in an octagonal design, consisted mostly of huts made of thatch. They were later replaced by wooden houses in the typical island style, covered with corrugated sheets of galvanized metal.
The Aguirre Central Sugar Mill town had cultural, social, recreational and administrative facilities. The community eventually had a main residential plaza, a golf course, a clubhouse, a Catholic Church, a Methodist Church, a public school, a private school, a clinic, a hotel with a restaurant for United States residents, a swimming pool for visitors and administrators, a hotel for visiting Puerto Rican personnel, a theater, a passive recreation park, a central store and an ice factory.
It also had a police station, a market plaza, two restaurants, two clubs and two administrative buildings, as well as the structures that made up Batey Industrial, where most of the machinery (vats, centrifuges, rail transportation, etc.) was located.
Employer-employee relations were key to the development of this sugar giant. There is no evidence of a strike at Aguirre during its first 43 years of operation. It was not until 1942 that the first labor protest occurred. The administration practiced supportive policies of beneficent capitalism long before other local industries.
In 1990, after several decades of financial losses, the mill ceased operations. In 2002, the United States Department of the Interior included a large part of the Aguirre mill on the National Register of Historic Places. The site consists of the production areas of the mill, the port zone, the rail transportation infrastructure, the Aguirre and Montesoria residential zones and the golf course. Aguirre is the only remaining example in Puerto Rico of a company town.
Today, these structures have yet to be preserved and renovated. The construction of residential complexes nearby, as well as the abandonment and vandalism suffered by the structures of Batey Industrial and Batey Central, threaten this historic site.
Adapted and expanded by the PROE Editorial Group
Original Source: "Central Aguirre," Juan Llanes Santos, Conserva, State Office of Historic Conservation magazine, v. 2, 2006.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 10, 2010.