The Ponce Aqueduct

Published Saturday, July 18th, 2020
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

Designed by Timoteo Luberza and funded in part by Valentín Tricoche, the Ponce aqueduct, formally known as Acueducto Alfonso XII, was the first modern water distribution system built in Puerto Rico.  Construction began in 1776, and when it was finalized in 1880 at a then cost of $220,000 (equivalent to 5.28 million in 2019 dollars) the aqueduct was 2-1/2 miles long and rose 50 feet at its highest point. The gravity-based water supply system was in operation for 48 years, until 1928, at which time it was retired, with the advent of more advanced water supply systems. For decades, the aqueduct lay in ruins, but on June 17, 2015, it was voted a National Historic Monument, and since 2019 has been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The aqueduct holds particular significance and nostalgia for our family since a number of our relatives lived in that neighborhood, often referred to as “Bajo el Acueducto.”  (Beneath the Aqueduct).

This treasured picture from the 1930s shows my mother in the foreground with two friends in Loma Bonita, with the aqueduct in the background.  In the map below, you can see that Callejón Loma Bonita is indeed very close to the aqueduct.

In 1930, my mother was living with her parents (Juan López and Santa Maldonado), brother (Confesor), and sister-in-law (Angela Olivera) in Loma Bonita. The street name is written on the left margin. Mom was 18 years old.

Loma Bonita written in left margin with family members listed in highlighted area.

In the 1930 census for Ponce, our family patriarch, Florencio Rivera Maldonado was living with Mamá Otilia and Oscar (my father), Elena (De Nardo), Ana (Merritt), Vicente (Tío Neri), Isidro, and Angélica (Tita Medina). Adela, María, and Sinforiano (Guar) were living elsewhere. Delia was not born yet.

Part of the 1930 census of Ponce showing family members (highlighted)

Family home in Loma Bonita

Aunt Delia drew this picture completely from memory of their house in Loma Bonita. It was published along with her fascinating memories of their life in that house in the Dec. 2003 issue of the newsletter, which you can access right on this website.

Loma Bonita is where my mother and my father first met; they lived in the same neighborhood. By 1940, however, my mother’s family had moved to the nearby barrio of Mameyes. Her brother, Confesor, was by then living in a separate house with his wife and daughters. (See census record below.)  Sinforiano, or Guar, as everyone called him, was also living apart from Flor and Otilia; he now shared a house with his wife, Elena Sevilla, and their son, René. (Their census record follows also.)

Not long ago, I was surprised to learn that my maternal uncle, Confesor, was René’s godfather. I thought it was so strange because my parents didn’t marry until 1946, so I was unaware that there was a connection between both sides of my family. Now, studying these census records, I realize that Confesor and Guar not only knew each other from Loma Bonita, but were also neighbors in Mameyes. Guar, whose name is incorrectly listed as Flor Rivera Maldonado (that was really his father’s name—Guar’s was Sinforiano Rivera Cruz), was household #309 visited by the enumerator, and Confesor’s household was #312.  Notice also that René appears as Flor.  I had heard that his birth name was Sinforiano.

1940 census for Flor Rivera Maldonado

1940 census for Confesor Lopez Maldonado

René

Mameyes is located in the upper part of Calle Acueducto.  René’s brother, Heriberto (Papo), relates that his parents’ little house in Mameyes consisted of one room, a living room, kitchen, and an outhouse. When René was a couple of years old, his father bought a plot of land right next to the bridge of the aqueduct. He paid $50 for it and built a house with two bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. Later on, a third bedroom was added and a separate structure in the back, which they called “la casita.” One bedroom was for the parents, one for the girls (Milagros, Lillian and Luz), one for the younger boys (Papo and Edwin), while the big boys (René, Roberto, and Raúl) slept in la casita.

I am thankful that none of our relatives stayed in Mameyes because in October of 1985 there was a devastating landslide that destroyed 120 homes and killed many people. In the next family history article, I will write more about the Mameyes tragedy and how it affected our family.