This early 20th-century mansion has been immortalized in one of the greatest novels in Puerto Rican literature. Its real history is just as interesting as its literary one.
In the early-mid 1800s, the Spanish government of Puerto Rico began to offer incentives to foreigners willing to settle on the island and start businesses in hopes to increase development. Among those seeking new business ventures were three brothers from the Basque region of Fuenterrabía (officially Hondarribia) near the French-Spanish border.
The Peugeot brothers purchased more than 1,200 acres of land in the town of Moca and started a coffee plantation, known back then as Irurena (Basque for “Three Brothers”). They ran the business for several years with the aid of slaves until the caretaker, Juan Labadié, bought it from them. Labadie continued with the operations along with his new wife Cornelia Pellot, a freed slave.
In 1893, following Labadié’s passing, Pellot had their wooden house on the plantation demolished to make way for a new concrete building. The new Labadie Mansion was finished in 1905, 12 years later. Its architectural design is based on the Second Empire Baroque, a Caribbean adaptation of the French chateau or mansion, which was popular back then. The first floor was used for business purposes, while the second floor held the family’s living quarters.
Following the Spanish-American War, the United States seized control of Puerto Rico. The Labadie Mansion property was then transformed into a sugarcane plantation and operated until the markets fell in the mid-20th century.
The property was abandoned, left at the mercy of vandals for many years. In 1993, the mansion caught fire and it was mostly destroyed, leaving only the facade. Thankfully, that same year the municipality of Moca purchased the property along with 100 acres of land and it was restored to its former glory. The mansion was opened to the public six years later, now named Palacete los Moreau.
Palacete los Moreau appears on the famous novel La Llamarada by Puerto Rican writer and Moca native, Enrique Laguerre. The novel’s plot is based on real events. The property is known as Hacienda Palmeras in the novel, and the residents of the mansion are known as the Moreau family, hence its official name. After his passing in 2005, Laguerre was cremated, and his ashes were buried on the mansion grounds, to comply with his wishes.