In the southern area of Salinas, Puerto Rico, stands a relic of the island’s once-thriving sugar economy. Leaving the busy highway to enter road PR-705 feels like traveling back in time. On both sides of the road are several houses and buildings that have seen better times, surrounded by overgrown pasture, dead silence, and some vandalism. Keep traveling, and soon a big, rusty structure will stand out from everything else, letting you know you have arrived at the former Central Aguirre.
The ruins date to the mid-19th century, when Ignacio Rodriguez Lafuente founded Hacienda Aguirre. The sugar mill was more than 2,000 acres wide, of which only a small portion (about 285 acres) was used for growing sugar cane, while the rest was used as pasture for raising cattle.
With the turn of the century came the Spanish-American War, along with capital investments from the United States to expand and modernize the profitable sugar production. Ford & Company acquired Hacienda Aguirre along with several neighboring sugar plantations. The company expanded operations by grinding the sugar cane harvested in other plantations on the island, acquiring several miles of railroad to facilitate its transportation to Aguirre.
From this expansion grew a whole community that revolved around the now-called Central Aguirre. During its heyday, the “company town” offered housing for the sugar mill workers and its owners, a golf course, a hospital, a school, a social club, and a movie theater, among other facilities. The community was divided into two sections, Aguirre and Montesoria, which housed the Americans and Puerto Ricans respectively (hence the fork in road PR-705).
Through the mid-20th century, the company invested in modern technology to increase production, reaching 12,500 tons by 1961. Unfortunately by then, the sugar industry was experiencing a fast decline. Changes in the industry raised the cost of labor while demand was decreasing due to the availability of cheaper sugar from other markets. Finally, the island’s industrialization policy began exploring other emerging and modern business opportunities.
Given these setbacks, Central Aguirre continued operating at a loss. The government tried its best to save the sugar mill, but it wasn’t enough, and it ceased operations by 1990. Today, the only remaining company town in Puerto Rico sits mostly abandoned. Even though it was included in the National Registry of Historic Places, the dilapidated structures suggest there are currently no plans for preservation.
Know Before You Go
The community is known as Central Aguirre Historic District and can be found on Google Maps. Even though its best days are long behind it, some people still reside here so be respectful.