The Silver Townships- Rainbow City- Part I

Image: Map of the Panama Canal Zone.
Rainbow City appears at the Atlantic end (north)
Image courtesy of www.wikipedia.com


Of all the Silver Townships on the Isthmus of Panama,
Rainbow City in the Province Colon is the place that has been known by the greatest variety of names imaginable. It was first known asSilver City” but, in the early days of construction was variously referred to as The FolksRiver end of Manzanillo Island, Silver town at Mount Hope, New Silver town site at Big Tree; and Cristobal Silver Townsite. After the area was settled, however, it was also known as Silvertown, Silver Town, and Silver city. The term Silver “City” with the city capitalized was not formally recognized until July 1921 when it was named in this manner in official correspondence.

I recall Rainbow City when it was known as Silver City, before the end of World War II. On my excursions into Colon during my adolescence I remember the rather barracks-like and almost depressing look of the Zone type houses that were all painted in a darker shade of institutional green; the tin roofs were painted black and so were the wooden columns under the houses. These last were painted black with Creosote to ward off the termites and other pest infestation. The place was very clean and orderly and during the day was unusually bereft of human activity as most of the men were at work on the Canal Zone. After the war, however, the town began taking on a different look when the people could relax a bit from the wartime restrictions of the Civil Defense people and the Canal Administration and paint their houses in many different shades of mostly pastel colors; hence the name “Rainbow City.”

The area known as Rainbow City today showed up in maps as a little settlement called Guava Ridge during the French Canal construction era of the 1880s. After the Americans acquired the rights to build the Canal in 1904, the area already included a townsite at Folks River (called “Fox” River up to 1915), which consisted basically of a collection of small, portable houses that had been put up by the French and were in disrepair. At the time the Americans inherited 24 main buildings in three rows between the railroad shops and the main line. There also existed a settlement on the shores of Limón Bay, overlooking Telfer’s Island. This area, which came to be known as Camp Bierd, included a few houses for families but mostly consisted of crowded one-story barracks for dock workers.

We must underscore that Silver City was originally built as segregated housing for Panama Canal employees and that later it was developed into a proper town by the Canal Zone Government. According to the records, in 1907 there were 2,439 men (West Indian men), women and children in the Cristobal District’s “silver” quarters. The town site’s segregated school, with an enrolment of 166, was the largest colored school in the Canal Zone.

Cristobal’s constant activity, especially in port and railroad traffic, was the source of employment for most of Silver City’s men and insured that the population of the segregated town continued to experience growth even as white settlements in the Canal Zone experienced sharp population decreases when Canal construction drew to a close.

This story will continue.

8 responses to “The Silver Townships- Rainbow City- Part I

  1. I love your blog! Thank you for keeping this information out there.

  2. Hi Miss Fruitfly,

    We are happy to be able to provide the information on this blog and we’re enjoying discovering much of this information as well. If you haven’t already done so, may we suggest you become an email subscriber through our Feedblitz box on the right sidebar of this blog.

    Best regards,

    RR

  3. I am a first generation American born to Panamanian parents. My father was born in Colon and raised on the Canal Zone, and since I was a child, he has been telling me stories about his time spent in Rainbow City. The way he explained his experiences there and describes what the area use to look like is so profound that it almost seems like a magical utopia. But of course, if you visit Rainbow City today, it is extremely hard to envision the beauty it once portrayed. I have thought about going back to start a clean-up and re-organization moment for this once West Indian gorgeous neighborhood. I just do not know where to start. Any suggestions?

  4. Mr. Roberto Reid, I would like to sincerely express my gratitude and appreciation to you for providing this information about the West Indian people of Panama and more information relating to the African ancestry in Panama as well. Out of all the history content I learned in school, I always felt that this historical information was most important as it thoroughly explains who I am and where a portion of my roots come from. Unfortunately every time I visit Panama, I get the sense that the generation after me (gen Y) are distancing themselves from the fact that at one time, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts’ canal zones and even off the zones were heavily populated with black West Indian settlers who directly and indirectly helped influenced Panamanian culture and heritage. I admire your work Mr. Reid and would like to thank you, my father and all the Panamanian elders who educated me about the West Indian history and their influences in Panama. Because of you all, I will continue to keep the history alive. Thank you!

    • Jaycee,
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. It is comments from visitors like you, a descendant of our beloved Silver ancestors, that has made keeping up this blog completely worthwhile.

      RR

  5. RICHARD ALBERTO LOVELL

    Greetings! My name is Richard Lovell and I came onto your blog by chance and really appreciated seeing your information. My father was born in Colon and graduated from Silv City High School in 1952. He told me so many stories that I will never forget! Thank you.

  6. Good to hear from you Richard! I am convinced that the Silver City H.S. students saw a great deal of important history evolve through the years. We encourage many of them to tell their stories to leave them to the generations to come.

  7. Saludos! Mr. Reid, I truly enjoyed your blog, my grandfather lived in Silver City during the 1930’s and worked at the commissary at Mount Hope. I recalled my parents talk about Silver City, my early memories of the city in the 1960’s was a lovely community with manicured lawns and clean streets. It was called Rainbow City, during the 1970’s many Colon baseball players came out of from Rainbow City. It was a nice community, unfortunately today is not the same place due to many reasons. I visit Colon as often as I can, and over the decades I have witness the steady decline in the city that sadden my heart. I am a Colon Bouy, born and raised till I die!!

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