In May of 2004, Heidi-Marie Blackwell sent an email from Seattle to Enrique Cirules in Havana, hoping to learn more about her great grandmother, Emily Blackwell. She had read his book on the history of La Gloria City, Conversation with the Last American, the only history of La Gloria City she was able to find. She wanted to know if Mr Cirules had more stories about Emily than had been included in his book. He quickly responded saying he had,
over forty years ago, for a period of three years, interviewed William Stokes, the last American in La Gloria City, Camagüey, Cuba, collecting his memories of La Gloria and that Mrs Blackwell had been mentioned in many of them. He had a bag full of notes and legends through which Emily walked, as though a ghost. She was a legend in those parts. And when he saw the photo of Emily that Heidi-Marie had sent in her second email, he realized that he had felt her all along, waiting to be seen in a truer light. An agreement between Heidi-Marie and Enrique quickly formed that they would merge their research and each create a book about Emily Blackwell: Heidi-Marie would write a memoir about uncovering the life of her unknown ancestor, digging for anything she could get her hands on, imagining to fill the voids between the scraps of facts that still exist of her, though her descendants had little to show of hers and had even less to say; Enrique would go through his vast notes and assemble a book of legends as told to him by those who knew her or had heard of her.
In 2005, Heidi-Marie received permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury to travel to Cuba. She and Enrique met in Havana and traveled together to La Gloria City in Camagüey province, digging in archives looking for any sign of Emily, talking to anyone who would listen, and listening to anyone with something to share on the subject.
This website was created to primarily promote their findings that went into these two books as well as presenting their previous and ongoing work. Heidi-Marie Blackwell is an artist: a graphic designer and illustrator as profession; and a writer and photographer for the love of it. Enrique Cirules is a historian and prolific writer of several published books and essays. His love for the area in which he grew up filled him with stories of its past and its characters linger still, whispering encouragement into his ear, so that all may know their story.
ABOUT LA GLORIA CITY
On October the 9th, 1899, Engineer J C Kelly, along with a group of surveyors, engineers and his assistant N O Neville, landed at a spot on Camagüey's northern coast, forty miles west of Port Nuevitas, sent by the Cuban Land and Steamship Company. This group of Americans worked for months in the division into lots of vast territories that they called Valley of Cubitas, marking the beginning of what was called the establishing of La Gloria Colony, the first American colony in Cuba.
The lands that they chose included a wide band of land, from the outskirts of the Sierra de Cubitas to the sea, bordering on the west with the Maximo River, where the farms Las Mercedes, Rincon Grande, San Agustin, San Jose de Canasi, Laguna Grande, the estate of San Lorenzo de Viaro and other haciendas that comprised thousands and thousands of acres were.
Those were the years of the first United States intervention in Cuba, and from its main offices at 32 Broadway, New York City, the Cuban Land and Steamship Company organized the arrival in Cuba of thousands of Americans behind which massive political maneuvers and deceptions were in hiding. On the Cuban Land blue prints – and only there – were beautiful cities with appealing names: La Gloria City, Garden City, City of Piloto, City of Columbia and Port Viaro.
In reality, the place was only a mangrove swamp. Nevertheless, Cuban Land launched an enormous campaign in the States to encourage the colonization of huge Cuban territories. It was said that the company had established an important city in the tropics. There were roads, railroads, hotels, a port, restaurants and theaters, beautifully subdivided streets and all the amenities of a modern city.
The first expedition that arrived had General Paul Van der Voorts of Nebraska at its head, who had been Commander in Chief of the National Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic and later President of Cuban Land and its businessmen in New York. The expedition left New York on December 30, 1899 with E O Smith as Captain of the steamship Yarmouth. There were 200 men and just one woman aboard: Mrs Crandall. The settlers had concentrated in New York from all over the States, from Maine to California, Florida to Minnesota, including Prince Edward Island and British Columbia in Canada.
January 4, 1900 the Yarmouth entered Nuevitas Bay at noon and was greeted by General A L Bresler and Peter E Park, President and Manager of Cuban Land. The 48-mile long journey was made through inlets in three smaller vessels: two Cuban and the Emily B from Lake Ward, Florida, which had arrived two days before with around twenty Floridian farmers, four women among them.
Several of Yarmouth's passengers did not even go ashore. Others would return from Port Viaro when they saw the deception of which they had been victims. After crossing four miles of gadfly-infested swamps, only 160 members of that expedition would reach the illusory Gloria City. Led this time by Colonel Thomas H Maginnis of Philadelphia, a former US Army officer and war veteran, they put up tents and, on the evening of January 9, they camped at the glade in which their future city was going to be built. Around 300 people slept there that night including around 50 Cuban laborers and more than 50 American employees of Cuban Land that had been on site for several weeks, the Yarmouth settlers and a few adventurers from all ports of the Gulf who had arrived in sailboats and other small vessels.
The Yarmouth's first expedition included four medical doctors, a lawyer, an editor, some pencil-pushers, several merchants, accountants, machinists, mechanics, masons, carpenters, Army veterans, ex-convicts, a clergyman from Georgia, the Reverend A E Sedom, Judge Groesveck of Washington, DC, Dr WP Pearce from Hoopeston, Illinois, farmers, adventurers and fortune seekers.
In the following months there were more expeditions of the Yarmouth and other vessels to the Camagüey coast to settle on the lands sold by Cuban Land in the States. The settlers arrived in Cuba with their children, wives and elders.
During the early years thousands of American farmers came to La Gloria City encouraged by false promises. Thousands also turned right back when they discovered the deception. Only the boldest or those who could not return decided to stay in the Valley of Cubitas. Without resources or roadways, or a port from where to export their goods, and choked by laws that banned the entrance of their produce in US ports La Gloria City was doomed to disappear.
The core group that established La Gloria City were the American farmers. Hard working, enterprising people who started from scratch plowing a lot of land purchased from Cuban Land. Concealed under the guise of settlers there were also ex-convicts, wanderers, gunslingers, gamblers, drunkards, sexually and financially frustrated men, crooks and adventurers of all kinds.
Those who decided to stay kept five and ten acre parcels and planted fruit and vegetables, giving origin to a vast cultivated zone and to an impressive community, a real feat of strength and courage given the forces that loomed against La Gloria City.
In 1914, La Gloria City and the Valley of Cubitas in general reached its peak. Its inhabitants were thousands of Americans and many Germans, Poles, English, Swedes, Danes, Italians and other nationalities. La Gloria City had a courtroom, a police station, a rural mounted guard post, a Town Hall, post and telegraph station, a telephone line from Port Viaro to La Gloria, a school, a library, electric power, shops, inns, barbershops, dairies, bakeries, pharmacies, blacksmith shops, photographers, artisans, doctors, carpenters and masons. There was a soap factory, a broom factory and two picturesque two-story Hotels with lush gardens and bay windows, rugs, fine crystal and china and silk drapes. A direct, paved road was built under Engineer Kelly's direction. It started at Port Viaro, went across La Gloria's Central Avenue and continued toward the Cubitas Range, in search of Camagüey City. Bridges made of concrete and wood beams crossed the streams. Old Mr Louis from Boston made shiny shoes for the ladies and cowboys with the hundreds of lasts brought with him. On one side of the town a small sugar mill was built for the manufacturing of sugar and molasses. A printing shop distributed a twice-a-week newspaper, The Cuban Americans as well as books and publications of interest to the community. Englishman Mr Weake brewed ale and black beer. There were services at two churches: one Methodist and the other Episcopalian. A Catholic mass was said on the first Sunday of each month by Father Hildebrand of Palm City, a German city about twelve miles from La Gloria. There were Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodges. The houses were built from mahogany and cedar, shapely and spacious. The streets were neat and shaded by Poinciana trees. A twelve musician orchestra (five women and seven men) provided the entertainment at parties with violins, violas, brass and drums. Citrus and vegetables were harvested and goods were imported from New York through the Nuevitas port. A mule-drawn tramway with wheels and rails made of sabicu wood made the journey from La Gloria City to New Port, while the steamship La Gloria served both as a means of transport and leisure from the coast to the keys.
Then, the gradual descent.
La Gloria City
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