The Silver Townships- La Boca, CZ – Part I

Image is a colorized photo of La Boca, CZ
circa 1914 in an expansion phase.
Special thanks to I.L. Maduro for the image.

La Boca, Canal Zone
has, as with many of the Silver Townships, a most fascinating history and is inescapably intertwined with the history of both the Panama Rail Road and the Panama Canal construction. We have discovered a wonderful article from of The Panama Canal Review, June 4, 1954, descriptively outlining the basic history of La Boca and its residents and we are happy to present it to our readers for the next few posts regarding La Boca. Of course, we do well to remember that the term “local rate,” wherever it appears, is synonymous with SilverRoll as the Silver workers were paid at “local rate” and not American rate. La Boca was a “local rate” community.

If a section of Panama Railroad track had not sunk six feet one morning in 1907 – “The Mouth” – might not be where it is today. The La Boca area might look like the environs of the two-step locks at Miraflores instead of what it is – one of the Canal Zone’s oldest local-rate towns.

The canal plan had called for two sets of locks, one at Pedro Miguel and the other near Sosa Hill. They were to have been separated by a large terminal lake, to be known as Sosa Lake. Not all the Canal’s top men – John F. Stevens, among them – approved the idea but had begun work on the damns for the lake.

After the section of track near La Boca sank suddenly and a trestle toppled, Chief Engineer George W. Goethals appointed a board to study lock sites. Eventually the locations were determined and La Boca returned to its former status of Pacific terminal for the Panama Railroad and the only Pacific port between Callao in Peru and Salina Cruz in Mexico where deep-draught vessels could unload at a wharf. It seems strange today to read that the transfer provided not only more stable foundations but also better protection from bombardment from the sea!

As far as its history goes, La Boca went through three phases. At La Boca the old trail from Panama City to the towns which are now considered to be in the “Interior” crossed the Rio Grande. The French Canal Company, as the Americans did later, used the valley of the Rio Grande as the southern end of their canal line. In 1881 they began to build shops at La Boca where their dredges could be assembled.

One historian reports that the French Company loaned enough money to the Panama Railroad for construction of a deep-water harbor and a 960-foot steel pier. This pier, which eliminated the old lighter system, is still standing although it has been much changed in appearance. Just as the Americans did later, the French planned for a double lock near La Boca.
When the French Company sold its interests to the United States in 1904 the buildings and wharves in La Boca were part of the properties transferred. No better description of this phase of La Boca can be found than the following, from the 1905 report of the Isthmian Canal Commission:

“The town is divided into two parts by the railroad tracks and yards. On one side all of the buildings are owned by the United States and on the other nearly all of the buildings were erected by private parties on land leased from the old French Company. All of the buildings in this town owned by the United States are being overhauled and repaired; several of the more dillapidated were destroyed and in their places have been erected two large and commodious barracks, one for the unmarried and one for the married employees working at this point.”

“Repairs on the old ones have reached such a point that it is proper to say that this portion of the town has been rebuilt and instead of being a dangerous plague-spot, the town has now become a model camp with houses in good repair, freshly painted, supplied with electric lights, a water system and good drainage. A good road of Telford pavement constructed by the Commission connects La Boca with the outskirts of Panama.”

This was written after two cases of bubonic plague had broken out at La Boca. The resultant quarantine disrupted the transportation system and called for stringent measures by sanitary authorities.

A special thanks to CZbratsfor providing this article.

The story of La Boca will continue.

One response to “The Silver Townships- La Boca, CZ – Part I

  1. Kyle & Svet Keeton

    That was good, seems the two locks were going to be used by the French also.

    Mother Nature had other ideas! Probably a very good thing.

    How big was the monetary difference between local rates and American rates for pay?