History

Found At Last: Paso de Varas
At Puente Nacional
Santa Annaīs Last "Lost" Hacienda

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

The Old Haciendas of Veracruz
Veracruz and the surrounding area is like a vast museum, but there are no labels. And sometimes the information you get has been forgotten over the centuries or has changed in time. I have always been fascinated by the old abandoned haciendas along the Gulf of Mexico.

What especially captured my attention were the haciendas once owned by Gen. José Antonio López de Santa Anna. Heīs the ogre of the Alamo, and in many quarters of Mexican history he is considered a traitor to his own country for some other things he did. But, he was born in Xalapa, and grew up around Veracruz. He once owned 4 haciendas in this area.

The story of the haciendas in this area of Mexico goes back to long before the times of Santa Anna, sometimes to the original Spanish land grants of the 16th century.

Searching for the Haciendas of Santa Anna
In an book I found Santa Anna had four haciendas. I was unemployed and had a lot of free time, so I decided to go looking for them in my spare time, which I had a lot of.
  • El Lencero was easy. Itīs near Xalapa and is well known.
  • Boca de Monte was a little hard to get to but it is a gem and worth a trip on Sunday when they sell great cheese empanadas.
  • But, Paso de Varas had me stumped and it stayed on my search list.

Part of Paso de Varas

Sign
Puente de Rey today is Puente Nacional
How it Started
In January of a little over 2 years ago, I was driving along the old highway past Puente Nacional.

There is a special feeling about this narrow place in the road where there are two short bridges.

One of them was orginally built in the early 1800īs when this part of the country was called New Spain.

It was a strategic point along the Camino Real that connected Europe to Mexico City through Veracruz.
Sign
This Place Belongs to All of Us
Puente del Rey
On the highway between the two bridges was a wide space for parking so I pulled over for a moment to look up at the high straight hill which must have a beautiful view of the highway.

In the old days, it must have been a lookout point that controlled an important stretch of the highway.

I looked over and saw a sign and some stairs going up the mountain. I had the time and got out of the car to take a look. I was the only one around.

Veracruz doesnīt get many tourists and most of the year you have these historic places all to yourself.

The only exceptions are Christmas or Easter Week when itīs not a good time to come.
Hacienda
View from the Left
The Next Project
Now, when I read about the battles for Puente del Rey, I can visualize how difficult it was to conquer.

My next project is to ask around Veracruz about the abandoned hacienda at the bottom of the hill and maybe find out when it was built and by whom. I could do the research work during the week and come back the following Sunday.

This is how the search for the real Hacienda of Santa Anna called "Manga de Clavo" got started.
From the Highway
A Closer Look at the Hacienda
The Mysterious Hacienda at Puente Nacional
I noticed the abandoned hacienda in the red square.

Local people say itīs Santa Annaīs Hacienda "Manga de Clavo".

The mountains of Xalapa can be seen in the background.

On a previous trip to Puente Nacional, I climbed the Cerro to the Watchtower of the Concepción, looked down and saw an abandoned hacienda in ruins.
View Right
View of the Road from the Right
Locally Called Manga de Clavo
Later on the internet I saw pictures of the same plantation taken by a university professor when he took his students on a spring break trip to Veracruz.

I sent the professor an email asking how he found out the name of the hacienda.

He replied that the people in the town of Puente Nacional told him the name was "Manga de Clavo".

At this point, I didnīt know what to think because an entry in Madame Calderon de la Barcaīs diary on a visit to Manga de Clavo had it close to Santa Fe.
Sign
Paso de Varas
An Unexpected Letter
One day I received an unexpected letter from Steve Harriman.

"Your research on Santa Anna's haciendas caught my attention.

I am working on a biography of a man who served in the U.S. 11th and 9th Infantry Regiments in the Mexican War and who encamped briefly in a hacienda believed to be one of Santa Anna's near the National Bridge after a fight there.

I believe the ruins of the hacienda you saw from the fort and later explored is Paso de Varas. "
Old Archway
My principal source is Wilfrid Hardy Callcott, "Santa Anna, The Story of an Enigma Who Once Was Mexico" (Hamden, CT: Archen Books, 1964).

On page 217 he mentions that Santa Anna, trying to sell Paso de Varas along with Manga de Clavo and El Encero about 1845, advertised Paso de Varas as a "magnificent house at the Puente" Nacional.

I agree with you that el Lencero is close to Jalapa on the Veracruz road and Mango de Clavo is a short distance from Veracruz as Madame Calderon indicated it was.

If you want to learn a little more about that fight at the bridge (9Sep47), try to find John R. Kenly, Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer in the Years 1846-7-8 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott and Co., 1873), pp. 300-307.
Door
A Now Empty Doorway
Stephen Harriman
Norfolk, Virginia

In another letter, Steve wrote:

I discovered today that the book by Major Kenly I mentioned is available on line.

Type in eBooks: American History: Mexican War and you should be able to find it.

Otherwise, try the Univ. of Michigan's Making of America Books site (they put in on line).

It's Kenly, John R. (or Reese), Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer.....

Look for pp. 300-307 for the business about the bridge.

You can find it here: http://www.hti.umich.edu/m/moa/
Paso de Varas
As I mentioned, Santa Anna apparently advertised those properties of his for sale about 1845.

You might be able to track that down in Veracruz. I'll try to get a more specific reference this weekend; if I do, I'll let you know.

Steve

John Kenlyīs Account
I looked up the book on the University of Michiganīs site and found an interesting account of the taking of the same hill above Puente Nacional by US troops in April 1847.

Since the beginning of the American Invasion of Veracruz barricades had been placed across the bridge, and the situation had become a "thorn in the side" of the Americans advance to Mexico City.
Paso de Varas
Kenly gives a detailed description how he and his troops climbed the hill behind the Fort of the Conception and took the hill.

Later, after clearing the barricades, he wrote: "In the course of a couple of hours orders were got up to me to descend with one of the companies; crossing the bridge I passed through the village and took up my quarters with Colonel Hughes in the mansion of Santa Anna which fronted the highway some one hundred yards west of the bridge."

"In itīs marble paved halls my hammock was slung, and side arms with horse accoutrements soon made things look comfortable, despite the absence of beds and chamber furniture."

When you are at an undeveloped site like this, you get a special feeling, like the hair on your arms stands on end.

The next time I am in Puente Nacional I will look for the marble floors.

Now that I had established, that the abandoned hacienda once belonged to Santa Anna I began to look at some old maps.
Lindero means Property Line
The Next Step
Then I remembered a map of the Hacienda Las Tortugas Iīd seen in "Las Haciendas del Estado de Veracruz".

Along the southern boundary was the property line for Paso de Varas.

The Southern Boundaries of Paso de Varas

Property Lines Now

It was a huge hacienda in those days. The date on the map was 1872.

A Sigh of Relief
One of my searches was over with and it would be time to go back to Paso de Varas and walk the route that Capt. Kenly took.

I wanted to scrape away the weeds and look for the marble floors.

Maybe I would find Don Felipe Rodriguez Vargas and we could talk about old haciendas again.
My Friend Don Felipe Rodriguez Vargas
Neighbors
Paso de Varas is near the village of Puente Nacional and people live near by.

Don Felipe Rodriguez Vargas was walking by and stopped to talk to me for awhile.

He has lived in Puente Nacional for many years, and is now retired.

He likes the old ruins, too, and said it once used to belong to Santa Anna.

On the Old Camino Real
Then my cell phone rang. It was John Romero in Louisiana. He began to ask a series of questions about offshore platform construction techniques in Mexico.
The Original Camino Real Back to Town
I realized it was time to go back to the real world in Veracruz. I told him Iīd have to call him back with the answers in about an hour when I got home.

Don Felipe sensed our conversation was coming to an end. He told me next time Iīm in Puente Nacional to come by his house for a visit.

"I donīt live far from the little store across the street from the only billboard in town," he said. "Just come by any time. Iīve got lots of time. The empanadas are also good."

National Bridge
That was almost 2 years ago and I realize itīs time to go back to Puente Nacional. On the toll road through Cardel, itīs less than an hour from Veracruz.

Through the tamarindo trees I took one last look at the National Bridge.
National Bridge
I wondered when I could come back to see Don Felipe and sample some empanadas made over a wood fire, like they make them in the small towns around Veracruz.

I wanted to retrace the steps of Capt. Kenly, and once again explore the large old hacienda of Paso de Varas. It once covered the whole hillside.

In the meantime, I realize I need to find some time to do some more digging in the archives in Veracruz so that on my next visit I will know more about what Iīm seeing.

Good information is hard to find. Maybe thatīs why itīs fun to explore the backroads around Veracruz.

You never know what you will find next.
A Slice of Papaya for Breakfast
A Travel Secret
In the area around Puente Nacional and Rinconada, they grow a lot of papayas.

When I travel in the countryside, I always try to buy something from the people even though itīs only a coke at one of the small country stores.

In just about every little town in Mexico, farmers sell their produce to travellers along the highway. Itīs probably always been that way.

The papayas looked fresh that day, so I stopped and bought one to take home. One would last me for several days.

Some say they are great for digestion, but I like a plate of fresh papayas with a few sprinkles of sugar and a squeeze of fresh lime for breakfast.

I havenīt had any papayas lately, so itīs time to plan another trip back to Paso de Varas.