Adventures

An Old Map Written on a Desk
The Search for the Hacienda La Estanzuela

Photos and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Not Far Off the Beaten Path
There are a lot of out of the way places in Mexico that aren´t too far off the beaten path. All it takes is a little time researching the area before you go. It makes it a lot more interesting to know what you are looking for.

This search started last year when I was in the States working on a project, and I spent my spare time doing the research on the hacienda before actually making the trip. What I discovered was a very special place!

"Desk Reveals Mexican History"
A Strange Map Written on an Old Desk
Last year my historian friend, Carmen Boone Canovas, sent me a newspaper clipping about an exhibition of an old desk.

She knows I´m always interested in odd things from the old history around Veracruz. The article was about how historian Mr. Antonio García de León is doing research on the map and the old desk.

What made caught my attention was not only the old map painted on the interior doors of the desk, but that the article also said the hacienda was located near Tierra Blanca, Veracruz.

"That´s only about an hour from the port of Veracruz," I thought to myself.
A Closer Look at the Old Map
Old Maps are Interesting
The article said that the map was thought to be of the Hacienda La Estanzuela.

It also said that the hacienda was one of the original land grants to one of the soldiers of Hernán Cortes back in the 1520´s after the conquest of the Aztec Empire.It also said that it covered most of the coast south of Veracruz.

The map on the desk looked interesting so I took a closer look at it wondering if I could recognize some of the landmarks.

A Look at the Details
A Look at the Details

A Real Puzzle and Planning Another Trip
I couldn´t make heads or tails from the old map. To the people back then, it was the way they drew maps in those days, and it was probably easy for them to recognize the landmarks. I know the area well, but couldn´t figure out the puzzle.

Now, I knew I had to search the back roads around Tiera Blanca for the old hacienda, and it started with finding out as much as I could before making the trip. Otherwise, what I found would probably look like a pile of rocks out in the countryside.

So I began to research some of my sources and the works of others.

Here´s some of what I´d found about the hacienda La Estanzuela before making the trip:

Early History
It Began with a Soldier of Hernán Cortes
According to a compilation of court records by Adrían Salas and María Esther Martínez, I found that in the 1520´s, Álvaro Maldonado, also known as the "Wild Man of Medellín", was given a land grant or encomienda which included the town of Tlaxicoyan.

In 1530, it became the property of his widow Doña María del Rincón. For some reason, Gov. Estrada, gave the grant to Gil de Molina.

In 1534, it was passed back to the direct supervision of the Spanish Crown.

The church was also powerful in those days, and established missions and churches in the area which later grew into towns.

In the latter part of the 16th century, a land grant was given to Don Gaspar de Rivadeneyra and he built an empire based in the area around Tierra Blanca, Veracruz.

His hacienda was called La Estanzuela or San Francisco Cuetzalapa.
Not Far from Veracruz
It wasn´t too far from Veracruz, and I was curious to find out more about it before I set out in my car to go look for it.The hacienda is very old, almost 500 years had passed since it was founded, and I wondered what might be left to see.

The remarkable thing was that it was near Tierra Blanca, about an hour from the port of Veracruz. An easy drive for a Sunday morning trip.

A Look at the Details
Help from a Friend
Another historian friend in Cordoba, Veracruz had written me that he knew a lot about the haciendas in his area, so I asked him if he knew anything about the Hacienda La Estanzuela.

His reply startled me when he sent a lengthy transcription of the dispersal of the cattle in 1763, by the widow of Don Gaspar de Rivadeneyra.

From the legal descriptions, it looked like the area covered by the original hacienda was from Tierra Blanca, to Tuxtepec, Oaxaca to Cosamoalapan to Alvarado on the south; then up to Tlalixcoyan; then over to Cordoba and back to Tierra Blanca.

I got out a map and traced it the best I could.
Not On Old Maps
Not on any Old Maps
Many of the villages mentioned in the court records and on my maps of those days no longer exist, and I didn´t know where to start.

Then my friend told me the old hacienda is the first stop on the rail road between Tierra Blanca and Veracruz, and now I knew where to look!

As I looked over some of my old maps from the early 1800´s, I wondered what might be left of the original hacienda.

This Must Be the Place
March is a Good Month
It was a hot Sunday morning when I stopped by to pick up my buddy in Veracruz.

He´s a mechanic and it also likes exploring old historical things in the countryside.

Besides, it´s always good to have a mechanic along for the ride in case something happens.

March is the middle of the dry season and it´s when the weather starts to get really hot.
A Quiet Village
No Snakes in the Grass
The countryside is parched and bare because it hadn´t rained hard since last October.

Yet some of the trees from La Tinaja to Tierra Blanca were festooned with pink blossoms as they are this time of the year.

In spite of the heat, it´s good because all the grass is dead, and you can see a lot more of the old ruins.

Plus there´s no mosquitoes and you can see any snakes that might be lurking in the grass.
Approaching the Village
Looking for Signs of an Old Hacienda
As we pulled into busy Tierra Blanca we began to look for the railroad tracks, and just out of town we crossed the tracks past a Pemex storage area and took a left.

The countryside was rolling hills, and soon my buddy saw a sign that said:

"Estanzuela"

"Here we are", he said.
The Empty Railroad Tracks at La Estanzuela
Are you Sure?
It didn´t look like much.

Just another typical small farm in the area.

At the sign, we turned left toward the tracks.

As we crossed over the railroad tracks, I was looking for the regulation sign announcing the rail stop.

There it was. Barely visible.

It had rusted away along time ago, and was no longer a stop.

Looking for the Sign

An Old Sign off in the Weeds
A Major Disappointment
Looking at the rusty old sign off in the weeds, probably from the 1870´s, we had a real sense of disappointment. The hacienda was gone.

Perhaps it was too much to expect after all these years.

Since it was Sunday, the little village was deserted. Except for the crowing of a few chickens and the smell of beans cooking over a wood fire there was little movement outside the few houses set back from the road through town.

With that, we decided to drive back to Veracruz and scratch this project off the list.
The Old Panteón
Clutching for Straws
On the way back to Tierra Blanca, my buddy pointed off to the right.

It was the local cemetery. Maybe we could find some more information here.

We pulled off the highway into the old field, and walked through the weeds looking at the dates.

This was a new cemetery.

Another disappointment.
A Coke and a Bag of Sabritas
Local Information for the Price of a Coke
When in doubt, it´s always a good idea to stop by one of the country stores and on the way back to Tierra Blanca, we saw a small store, and stopped for a coke.

In Mexico, the people at these local stores know the area well.

The lady we talked to knew everything, and told us that the hacienda still existed and she went there often with her family.

"Where is it?" I asked.

"It´s where you saw the sign. But don´t follow the sign and take a left, and turn right. Over the cattle guard. The old hacienda is not more than about 150 meters from the highway."

Pay dirt!, I thought to myself.

So back we went. Now we knew where to look.
Found at Last!
Backtracking to the "Estanzuela" Sign
After thanking the lady at the store, we got back into the car and retraced our route back to the "Estanzuela" sign.

This time we took a right and drove over the cattle guard.

After about 150 meters along the dirt road, up ahead we saw a big wide space with a church painted brightly in the sun.

We were here at last!

We got out of the car and looked around. It looked like there was a lot to explore and we decided to start with the church.

Among the Trees, the Quiet Ruins of a House in the Background

Old Tombstones Embedded in the Walls
Old Tombstones and Miracles
Although I am not all that religious, I find churches to be interesting in both their architecture, and the things you find inside the churches.

I try to remember that everything inside the churches is a gift asking for a miracle or in thanksgiving for a miracle granted.

Many times, these relics remain for a time long after those involved have passed on and are forgotten, and what remains is one more miracle granted.

These old churches also functioned as cemeteries, and people were buried in the "campo santo" or "holy ground" inside or around the church.

Over the years, these old traditions have been discarded and forgotten, but you can still find some of the old tombstones embedded in the walls surrounding the church or inside the church itself.
Inside the Church
A Church that Comes From the Heart
Although it was recently restored, it looked very old, similar to the little church in Antigua, Veracruz which established in the 1520´s is considered the first church on the American continent.

This church doesn´t go back to the 1520´s, but still it is very old.

Perhaps it´s the small wall around the church that gives it a special feeling of peacefulness and safety, or that it is so old and has weathered all the turmoils of history, and is still here.

An old man once told me that the churches in Mexico are different from anywhere else because they come from the heart.

It is something that you feel and it´s where you go when you need to feel safe from fear.

I can understand why the local people come here in times of trouble. It is like it has always been here.
La Virgen de la Purísima Concepción
Maybe San Francisco de Assisi, with Now Empty Arms
San Isidro Labrador
The Saints Give Us Comfort
On the left was a magnificent statue of the Virgen de la Purísima Concepción, and in the center is San Antonio.On the right was San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of the agricultural laborers or peasants, dressed as a veracruzano.

An old man told me that the saints in Mexico are personal and give us comfort and safety. They are always here when we have lost hope, or have a broken heart.

"This is a church that is here to help us and heal our hearts," he said, "and is not so much about the rules and regulations of Rome which is almost in another world far away from us."

For many people, this is where the heart is when it is time to come home. Next we decided take a walk over to the ruins of the house.

The Main Residence of la Hacienda La Estanzuela

Full Length Windows and Tapered Columns
A Spacious Verandah in the Shade
As we approached the old house, you could see it must have had a spacious porch which was on the shady side of the house in the afternoons.

It was like a small version of a Southern Cotton Plantation, built for comfort in the tropics. The peope from "Gone with the Wind" would have felt right at home here.

The house was really gone with the wind, and hadn´t fared well over the last century.

What was unusual were the tapered round columns. I´d never seen them before.
Ornate Window Bars
19th Century Columns and Windows
Most of the columns of the old coastal homes have the round classic column, but they aren´t tapered.

The last remodeling job on the house must have been when Santa Ana was President of Mexico.

The classic red tiles used for the roof were stacked neatly off to one side and I took a closer look.

Antigua, Veracruz you can see these red roofing tiles with manufacturers markings on them, and some were made in France.

Here at La Estanzuela, there were no manufacturers markings on them, and they were probably made here in Mexico.
View from the Cool Inside
Full Length Windows
The house was designed and built for life in the tropics.Today, when the temperature was close to 100 degrees, even on the inside, without the roof, the shade of the nearby trees made it feel cool inside the house.

Looking outside from the full length windows across the broad prairie toward the church there was a feeling a peace and calm.

When the porch was there, it must have been pleasant to spend the evenings sipping lemonade and talking to friends, or handling the business of the day with the hacienda foreman.

Water is Important
In one of the rooms in the back of the house, you could still see the remains of a clay oven.So, this must have been the kitchen.

Perhaps the basic need of any house is water, and I wondered where the water was.
The Well and Washing Area
Out in the back about 30 feet from the back door was a well and washing area for clothes.

There´s always the temptation to look down to see if you can see the bottom, so I stepped over and looked down into it.

The well was about 40 feet deep, and if there was any water in the well, it was hidden by old branches and trash.

Then I shuddered to myself remembering that these old wells were dug by hand.

You couldn´t get me to climb down into a well like that!.

Low Mounds that Look Like Olmec Pyramids
Behind the washing area, out in the pasture, were some rolling hills or mounds that looked suspiciously like Olmec pyramids.

The Olmec civilization was from around 500BC and disappeared around 200AD.

This area has been settled for a long time!

Curious Olmec Pyramids behind the Hacienda

The Ghosts Look Out at You
Strange Things
A friend of mine here in Veracruz believes in ghosts and he enjoys looking at my photos of old places like the old Spanish fort of San Juan de Ulua.

He says that this part of the world is very old, and sometimes the spirits tend to hang around these old places.

In especially damp places, you can see the impressions of them etched in the mold that grows.

In this photo, he showed me what looked like a family with children, almost like an old portrait, just above the strange stool that almost looks like a toilet.

This looked like a bathroom or shower room, since I didn´t imagine they had indoor plumbing.

What looked like a toilet, was really a concrete stool.

I wondered why it was there?
A Strange Candle and 17th Century Portrait
A Portrait and a Mysterious Candle
"Do you see the candle and the portrait there?" he asked.

"Yes, there´s a candle there", I said.

"It wasn´t there when I took the photo," I added.

"If there´d been a candle there, I sure would have noticed it," I told him.

"Well, you can see the candle in the photo," he replied.

When I go back to the hacienda, I´ll go look for the candle, and take some more photos to see if it´s still there.

An Old Base
The Columns of the Verandah Reach into the Sky
The Columns of the Verandah and the Trapiche
Reflecting about old Trapiches
After satisfying our curiosity about the house, we sat for a moment in a clear space on the old verandah looking across at the chimney of the old trapiche where the original roof was still partially in place.

In use for many centuries, Trapiches were small sugar cane processing plants to make piloncillo or little cylindrial dried cones of sugar that tasted like molases.

You can still buy piloncillo in the markets in Mexico and people use it to sweeten coffee or eat it like candy.

These trapiches also produced the sugar for aguardiente and alchohol to sell to other haciendas where a bottle per day was one of the fringe benefits of working there, or in certain factories.

You can see that the Hacienda La Estanzuela was once an important plantation in the area.

I think there is a lot left to be discovered.

Restoring the Lost Hacienda
It looked like the owner is trying to restore the hacienda, is probably using his own funds, and had started on the church first.

At this rate it will take him a long time.La Estanzuela is too far off the beaten track to attract many tourists, and it looks like his personal project of love.

Restoring the Church First

Planning Another Trip to La Estanzuela
It is so good to get out of the city traffic, and I am looking forward to going back and spending some more time in this little out of the way place near Veracruz. I want to find out if others have seen the mysterious little candle in the bathroom.

Maybe I´ll find out some more details about the people who lived on this old hacienda, or hear some interesting stories when I stop to buy a coke at a country store. It´s amazing what you can find out for the price of a coke.

This has been my first trip after being gone for so long, and now I know this must be life at it´s best, and it´s not too far from civilization. You never know what you´ll find or who you´ll meet when you travel the tropical back roads around Veracruz.

Maybe I´ll go back next weekend and continue my search for more about the lost hacienda. I´ll let you know when I have a little more time.

Juicy Mangos
Like an Outdoor Museum
After leaving Tiera Blanca, at the little town of Mata Redonda, we noticed a lot of little stands of people selling crates of mangos. We didn´t buy a crate, but picked up a small bag to take home.

They seem to taste better than the ones you buy in the store, especially when you know they are picked fresh from the trees across the highway from the stand.

But you can´t eat a mango in the car, so my buddy and I stood next to the car on the highway slopping the juice onto the ground.

My buddy, the mechanic, remarked, "You know, it would be good to see more promotion for people to visit out of the way places like La Estanzuela."

"For me, it is like a huge outdoor museum." "Me, too," I said.

A Final Note of Thanks
I still don´t have all the information about La Estanzuela, and appreciate the help from my friend Carmen Boone Canovas, as well as some people I´ve never met: Mr. García de Leon, Adrían Salas and María Esther Martínez and their study of the legal records, and my friend Jesús García in Córdoba, Veracruz who pointed me in the right direction.

I just want to thank them for doing a lot of hard work and helping me make my one day trip to la Estanzuela a lot more rewarding!

I am continuing to look for others who may know more about La Estanzuela than I do, and will share this information as it comes along.

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