The Silver Townships- A History Unfolds Part I

Image: A rare photo of Red Tank
before it was deserted and dismantled.
The beautifal large Cuipo tree stands sentinal
over this road.

As we continue with our narrative of how the Silver Townships came to be, we must note that these dynamic communities also underwent a great many changes during their life cycle which, in some cases, resulted in their being dismantled all together and in others integration into the country’s governance, culture and economy.

By and large, however, the segregated Silver communities that were distinguishable by their Afro-Caribbean culture went on to survive and produce honest, hard working citizens of the Republic of Panama. Many of their children became highly educated professionals, university professors, doctors, lawyers, professional athletes of renown, and business people.

As we noted in our previous post, these townships cropped up around the Canal Zone area and they shared several things in common. They were primarily founded, whether during the French or the American Canal era, to accommodate the West Indian workers that were hired to labor on the Railroad or the Canal. These communities, then, by virtue of their closeness to the major construction or digging sites were created as work camps to house their workers as close to their job sites as possible. From the beginning the work camps may have included inhabitants of both races but, as time and utility required, particularly during the American Canal Era, the communities became totally segregated. Some silver communities, indeed, were often the “segregated” or “silver side of town” as was the case with Silver Santa Cruz in Gamboa and Silver Gatún.

Here we must pause and remember that the townships flourished along the Canal Zone between the two terminal cities of Colon and Panama, so that, even today, many West Indian Panamanians talk of their relatives from “Colon” or their relatives from “Panama” almost as if they were two different worlds. As we will soon see, there developed a rich variety of places and personalities on both sides. The principal Silver Townships in alphabetical order were Colon (City), Cristobal, La Boca, Paraíso, Rainbow City, Red Tank, Silver City, Silver Gatún, and Silver Santa Cruz.

Later on, particularly during the period after the inauguration of the Canal (1914), the American Canal administrators saw no further use for so large a group of laborers and they stepped up their “downsizing” of their Silver Personnel rolls often drastically and ruthlessly expelling the workers and their families from the Zone. Some headed for the far flung provinces of Darien and Bocas del Toro, thus continuing an age old movement as in the time of their West Indian forebears. The vast majority, however, migrated and settled in the terminal cities of Colon and Panama establishing enclaves and communities within these cities with that distinctive Afro-Caribbean flavor of their ancestral island homes.

In our forthcoming posts we will attempt to give you a history and some insight into the development of these Silver Townships. As a youth I lived in and visited some of these communities and they make up some of my best childhood memories. Due to the scant amount of documentation on these unique communities, however, we wholeheartedly invite our readers to share any knowledge they may have of these and of the other not-so-well-known communities, if they exist. We invite you to share your recollections and would appreciate it greatly.

This story will continue.

One response to “The Silver Townships- A History Unfolds Part I

  1. My mother who grew up in Red Tank were discussing its exact location. She told me about the tree and the Titanic where she lived. She also mentioned the huge field just outside of Red Tank which saw many a spirited baseball game. As you indicate, no one wrote down what happened and many of those of my mother’s generation have already passed on. Considering that many of Panama’s baseball heroes are of West Indian descent, those games were seminal in developing world class players rivaled only by Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

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