Town clock in Punta Gorda
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April 26, 2022

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I photographed this sign in PG in 1977. Not sure how current the data was then. Alan Jackson

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Town clock in Punta Gorda, and a little history of Punta Gorda

Below is a brief history of Punta Gorda and the Toledo Settlement. One slight error is the mention of the year 1745 as the year when “Jesuit fathers established a mission station…”. That year should be 1845, as another part of the book noted. Otherwise interesting information here. Source: Handbook of British Honduras, 1925.

PUNTA GORDA

This picturesque little town, prettily situated on the Bay of Honduras, skirts the water's edge to the extent of .three quarters of a mile. After the monotonously low coastline of the Colony, it is with a sense of relief that the eye rests on an exceptional elevation of 10 to 12 feet fringed with the coconut palm, making up one of those distinctly tropical scenes so much admired by visitors. Like Stann Creek, and about the same time, Punta Gorda was first settled by Carib immigrants from the Spanish Honduras. In 1745 the Jesuit Fathers established a mission station, and to their zeal is due much of the good work that has been done to make Punt Gorda what it is. Bush was cleared, a church was built and housea sprung up. When the settlement had assumed respectable Proportions a police constable was stationed there and periodical visits made by the magistrate at Stann Creek. In course of time, the town was surveyed and regularly laid out with lots and streets, and rapidly grew, until, in 1882, it was selected as the Headquarters for the Toledo District and a resident District Commissioner appointed.

Like other parts of the Colony in the wet season, heavy rains render outdoor exercise a difficulty, but owing to the natural fall extending from 50 to 100 yards, Punta Gorda is soon drained, and twenty-four hours' sunshine dispels the damp conditions. Nevertheless, the town and its surrounding country still maintains the reputation of being the most humid in the Colony because of the exceptionally heavy rainfall of this locality.

The rude, primitive, abodes of the earlier days have given place to wooden structures, similar in construction to those in other parts of the Colony. There are, however, still a few thatched dwellings to the back of the town. The Government buildings include a District Commissioner's Quarters, a District Medical Officer's Quarters, a Court House, a Police Station and District Prison, Rest House, Hospital and Quarantine Station. There is a Roman Catholic Church, School and Monastery, also a Wesleyan Chapel.

Punta Gorda is a Port of Entry and the nearest port of call for vessels from the Southern Republics. It is also a Shorelight station. There is a regular weekly coastal service for mails and cargo between Belize and the intervening points, and also with Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.

The population has risen from 519 in 1891 to 926 at the census of 1921. Over 90 per cent of the inhabitants are Caribs, the balance being made up of Creole and Spanish elements.

At Joe Taylor Creek to the north of the town, a wooden bridge, erected in 1889, connects the town to the road leading to the Sugar Plantation Settlements. Trade is fairly brisk by reason of its being the capital of the district and the business centre for the sugar and the woodcutting, industries, the latter has now become of great importance. In addition, the Indians dwelling in the interior bring down to Punta Gorda in large quantities, pork, beans, peas and other produce which ultimately find their way to the Belize market. About half a mile to the north of the town is Cattle Landing, which, its name suggests, is a landing station for livestock, merchandise, and other produce destined to or shipped from the Toledo Settlement or other points in the interior.

BARANCO

This settlement is the most southerly in the Colony, and is situated about midway between Punta Gorda and the Guatemalan Boundary' It is purely a Carib village of about 270 inhabitants with an alcalde in charge. The people are industrious, and for many years now Baranco has produced pineapples in superior quality and quantity to any other station in the Colony. Starch, as well as other catch crops, are grown.

TOLEDO SETTLEMENT

That portion of the Toledo District known as the American or Toledo Settlement lies between the natural watercourses known as the Rio Grande and the Rio Moho, and to the northwest of the town of Punta Gorda. The settlement was first colonised in the year 1868, when several planters from the Southern States of America, hearing that they could procure land at a reasonable cost, visited the Colony. They first settled at a spot called "Cattle Landing," which is near the sea coast, about a mile and a half due north of the town of Punta Gorda. As its name implies, it is the place where cattle destined for the settlement are landed from time to time.

On selecting their sites for future habitation, they penetrated the forest by making a road sixty feet wide and three and half miles long. The Toledo Settlement is today undoubtedly a monument to the patience and industry of the early settlers, who have long since "crossed the border," and refutes the statement that white men are incapable of withstanding the exposure consequent on outdoor labour in the tropics. The descendants of these enterprising gentlemen have passed through the many vicissitudes of the sugar industry with evident determination to live up to the enviable reputation of their forebears. Farming and the manufacture of sugar have been their chief occupation, but of recent years several of them have diverted their energies into the planting of bananas and to the mahogany and other timber industries. There are at present nine sugar mills, two of which are driven by steam, five by motor, and two by oxen. The names of the respective estates are Westmorland, Forest Home, Dixie, Eldorado, Fairview, Spice Hill, Fern Hill, and two others, Cornejo's and Coleman's. The largest of these is Forest Home, which is owned by Messrs. Levi M. and J. Magruder Pearce. It would not perhaps be out of place to mention here that long before the United States of America went "dry," the settlement had so declared herself, although it was obvious that it was to their financial detriment. Instead of making rum with their molasses, they fed their hogs and other animals on it. A fairly large area is kept annually under cultivation in sugar cane and several hundred labourers employed, a good many of whom are East Indians. Quite a number of horses, hogs and cattle are raised on each "rancho" or estate. During the Great War imported mess pork fetched an almost prohibitive price and in consequence, the Rancheros (the local name, applied to the owner of a rancho or sugar estate) found it more economical to supply their labourers with native grown pork. Poultry is raised, and eggs are shipped weekly to Belize to the hotels and boarding houses. Butter and cheese are made for local consumption only. A saw mill was recently established on the Temash River by Messrs. L. H. and J. M. Pearce, two of the most enterprising of the present settlers. Each rancho ls connected by telephone, which has proved a convenience, especially during the rainy season and in time of illness. The cost of upkeep is met by the settlers jointly. During the last fifteen years considerable sums of money have been spent by the Government in improving road communication to the settlement, and today the road from Cattle Landing to the Settlement proper is one of the best in the Colony. This road leads from Punta Gorda to the Settlement, thence to the Indian village of San Antonio, about thirty miles inland. There are two Government-aided schools in the Settlement, one controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and the other by the Wesleyan Methodist Mission. Almost all the Americans are Wesleyans. At the census of 1921 the population of the Toledo Settlement was 593.

Photograph by U.S. Embassy in Belize

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