Margarita
Excerpts from The Panama Canal Company Review, December 3, 1954

A little over 15 years ago, Margarita was only an expanse of rolling hills; unlike most Canal Zone communities its locale had not occupied even the most minute niche in Isthmian history.

Today (December 3, 1954) Margarita is potentially the Atlantic side's major town, which may outpace, in population and importance, history-laden Cristobal. A year ago Governor Seybold told Civic Council representatives that he foresees Margarita eventually as the Balboa of the Atlantic side, under the growing conception of the Canal Zone as two large urban communities.

Gradually Margarita is being developed to meet his conception. The long-desired swimming pool is now an item in a future budget; a deposit library was opened last summer as a branch of the Canal Zone Library; Margarita is the only Canal Zone community with two elementary schools; and other changes to make the town into a modern major community are still in the long-range planning stage.

NAMED FOR ISLAND

Indirectly Margarita derived its name from the little island which is now Fort Randolph, but where that island, originally known as Margarita, got its name is lost in history.

In 1917 a concrete road was built from Fort Randolph to Mount Hope. People had not yet gotten used to the new name of Fort Randolph and the highway was commonly known as the Margarita Road rather then as the Randolph Road.

That same year the Commissary Division established a hog farm "in the Mount Hope district on a point on the new Margarita Road" the farm, quite naturally, was known as the Margarita Hog Farm and its location is where Margarita now stands.

The road to the Hog Farm led off Diversion Road about where present 5th Street runs; for years after the farm was abandoned (after an outbreak of hog cholera in the late 1920's) this general area was one of the most popular Lovers' Lanes on the Atlantic side.

During the decade between 1930 and 1940 a Panama Railroad conductor, G. G. Boynton - whose hobby was hunting, used one of the farm's old buildings as a kennel for his dogs. His lease was canceled in January 1939 when the Canal's Third Locks began to emerge from the planning stage into a more imminent reality.

AGUA CLARA TOO HILLY

Since the Third Lock's largest single project was to be the triple flight at Gatun, it was obvious that there would have to be a settlement reasonably close by to house the construction forces, Gatun itself was not suitable but if the terrain around Agua Clara had been more to the engineers' liking, Margarita might never have been developed.

It was not until April 1940 that the "Mount Hope area" - in brackets was added: {Margarita Hog Farm}-was recommended for the Atlantic side's new town site. It was more suitable, the planners felt, than Agua Clara because it was "oriented for the breeze, better adapted for road grades and building sites, with more space for garages and recreational areas. " Furthermore, it would cost less to develop and be more suitable for a permanent future town."

Four months later Margarita's first buildings were authorized; by Christmas time there were five families living in Margarita. Margarita's first resident was C. E. Borgis, a locomotive crane operator with the Municipal Engineering Division. The apartment into which he and his family moved on Christmas Eve 1940, is now occupied by Miss Mary L. Mehl, a second grade teacher at South Margarita School.

FIREMAN AND POLICEMEN

Fire and police protection for the vast array of construction equipment and material which was stacked everywhere was a "must," so into Margarita's first four-family house moved two policemen, Gaddis Wall and Isaiah A. MacKenzie, and two firemen, Lt. W. E. Jones and E. L. Cotton. Captain Wall now is in charge of Cristobal's detective force, Sergeant MacKenzie is retired, and Captain Jones heads Balboa's fire district to which Lieutenant Cotton is assigned.

They set out to make other Margarita pioneers feel welcome. Until the clubhouse kitchen was ready, bachelor Margaritans "messed" at the fire station. Behind the police station, on a little hill, whitewashed stone letters bade newcomers: "Welcome to Margarita, C.Z.Police."

As Lieutenant Cotton recalls it, the first Margaritans, were a "good-natured bunch" who made the best of the mud and the board-walks, construction noises, and long hours. Everything but the sand flies. They were the plague of Margarita and not to be taken lightly. Those first residents bought pyrethrum in 10-pound bags and burned it in their houses, in bachelor quarters, and in such public buildings as Margarita had.

Eventually, as the town grew and new insecticides were developed, sand flies became less of a pest but Margaritans today, somewhat immune, still see an occasional outlander guest slapping surreptitiously at legs or ankles.

TOWN'S FIRST PARTY

By March 1941, Margarita was ready for its first community affair; the location was the newly completed fire station. Some 200 Margaritans and friends turned out for the party; it was supposed to last from 7-9 p.m., but was still going strong at 3 a.m.

Margarita, in its early days, was a town divided by employers -spiritually and physically. In one section, around the present community center, were the homes of Third Locks people and a handful of others like the policemen, firemen, clubhouse, and commissary employees.

A short distance away, where the Church of the Holy Family and the Knights of Columbus Hall now stand, were the homes of the contractors' employees. They lived, for the most part, in tiny pre-fabricated houses which everyone called "doll-houses."

"I never saw anything grow like that Contractors' area, " Captain Wall says now. "For awhile the doll-houses were popping up faster than one a day."

Years later some of the doll-houses were sold to the Panama Cement Company; they are still standing in the company's little town just off the Boyd-Roosevelt Highway near the cement plant.

FAST- GROWING TOWN

Margarita grew fast, once it started. From a half a dozen families in December 1940, the population increased to 1,032, a fifth of them children, in 1943. Margarita had its own hospital, only recently demolished quarters for the hospital staff, a commissary, clubhouse, post office, gymnasium, elementary school and kindergarten. For years all construction halted at Espave -named for one of Panama's largest forest trees which abound in this area-and 3rd Streets.

The exception was Ghost Hill on the high ground not far from Fort Gulick where Lychee Street was built later. It was a smallish clearing, surrounded by jungle, with a dozen or so houses, and a lonely place to be on foot patrol at night, Captain Wall remembers.

Although Margarita was definitely a construction town, it was fairly well-behaved. There were incidents, to be sure, and some funny and unprintable ones, but by and large there was remarkably little of people poking other people in the nose or bottle parties which went on to all hours.

At first Margaritans had to go "to town" - Cristobal or Colon-for their fun. Some of them belonged to the Progressive Dance Club which met regularly at the Hotel Washington. Then came the still-flourishing Margarita Recreation Association which was the subject of a Review story in June 1953 and which has sponsored everything from dances to picnics to hobby groups to Scout Shacks. It once even had its own weekly newspaper, whose slogan was: "All the news that fits we print."

With the cessation of the Third Locks project, old Margaritans say, the town "practically died." The contractors people packed up and went away; the Third Locks force was cut to a clean-up squad. But Margarita's population in 1944 was 854, which doesn't sound very moribund.

It wasn't long before Atlantic siders began to see the advantages of suburban living; despite gasoline rationing a shift in population from Cristobal to Margarita began during the last of the war years. This was spurred still further in 1945 when 11 new two-story, two-family, houses were built in the Casuarina and Hevea Place neighborhood.

NEW QUARTERS

When Margarita got its first on-the-ground masonry houses, in 1948, close to a thousand people turned out to inspect them. The Chief Quartermaster, then the Grand Mogul of Housing, later wrote their occupants asking what they thought of the new houses. Their replies were highly complimentary.

In 1950 Margarita began to boom. Barracks which had housed Third Locks bachelors were demolished to make room for Margarita's re-development. The town site was extended and new houses began to appear. The first of these were occupied in october 1951. Today (December 3, 1954), Margarita is bounded, more or less, by a horseshoe made up of Espave and Margarita Avenues, on the east and west. Its numbered streets run, also more or less, north and south.

Margarita, which has little past, is a town with a future. It has the most modern elementary school building in the Canal Zone. Two churches serve Margarita and land has been assigned for three others. the Elks and the Knights of Columbus have their own buildings, as do the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Atlantic Side Saddle Club, the Brazos Brook Country Club, the Cristobal Gun Club, and the Colon Humane Society's kennels are practically next door.

Its Civic Council, consolidated with that of Cristobal, is an ardent advocate of Margarita's progress. One of the latest projects is a Teenage Club, in a building recently assigned by the Governor. It is being refurbished by the youngsters and some parents will be run by the teenagers, with a Civic Council committee standing ready to give advice, when asked.

Margarita's town Hallowe'en parties are famous and its Fourth of July celebration serves the people of the Atlantic side. Its town spirit has kept pace with its growth. One old-time Margaritan has a peculiar thermometer for both. "See those palm trees," he said the other day, "they were not over a couple of feet high when I came here 14 years ago. Now some of them are topping 30 feet. That's the way Margarita has grown too."



Composed by CZAngel

Presented by CZBrats
Last update: October 17, 1997

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