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 as “Silver 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.