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Paraiso — 1907

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Paraiso — 1960s

Fast Growing Pacific Side Town, Is One of Oldest Settlements

Paraiso, one of the oldest settlements in the Canal Zone, is now one of the fastest growing communities on the Pacific side.

Its history dates back to the time when there were no written records. It was one of the first settlements used by the French Canal Company in 1882 as headquarters for a chantier or working section, and it became even more important during the construction period under the Americans.

At least twice within the past 15 years it has been abandoned and revived.

Its present growth is the result of 244 family units being built there under a $1,778,574 contract with Tucker McClure. The work is about a month ahead of schedule and the first of the new houses will be completed about October, under the present schedule. The final completion date for the whole contract is next May. This is the largest of the Pacific side housing contracts for this fiscal year.

Early History Unknown

Little is known about the early history of Paraiso, or Paradise in English, but it is believed to have been a settlement long before the Spanish explorers came to the Isthmus. It had one of the finest springs and furnished the purest water to be found on the Isthmus. It is known to have been an important point on the Trans-Isthmian trek of early Spanish conquistadores across the Isthmus on what was known as the dry-season trail.

It was first selected as a permanent settlement during the early 1850's when the Panama Railroad was being built. A 40-foot cut for the new railroad was dug there. After the rails were laid along the new roadbed a torrential rain swept back the earth and covered the tracks to a depth of 20 feet. It was a costly, and what should have been an invaluable lesson, on the treacherous slides of the Isthmus.

Town Revived in 1880

Paraiso slumped into obscurity after the railroad was completed, but was revived when the French began their Canal work. They established their first Pacific side headquarters there.

The town took a new growth after 1904 when the Canal work was begun by the United States Government. Col. William Crawford Gorgas selected it as the headquarters for all Canal Zone sanitation, perhaps because of the large mountain-spring that furnished uncontaminated water. The Panama Railroad, a backbone in the Canal work, also established its main headquarters there.

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Paraiso Machine Shops

Throughout the construction period the townsite hummed with activity. The Panama Railroad had its main shops there and for about 10 years Paraiso was a junction and shop center for all railway activity on the Pacific side.

Dredging Division Headquarters

After the Canal channel was flooded it was decided to move the Dredging Division headquarters there. It continued as such until its first abandonment in 1938 after the completion of the new town of Gamboa to which the Dredging Division headquarters were moved.

The town was empty for just one year, when the site was transferred to the United States Army for headquarters for the Fifth Infantry. The Army added many new buildings and most of these quarters are still in use.

Paraiso was a busy place during most of World War II but the Army units stationed there were moved during the early part of 1944 and the site was transferred back to the Canal. Since most of the buildings were in good usable condition, it was decided to use them for a local-rate community.

Many Improvements Made

Various alterations and improvements were made soon after Paraiso was reoccupied and such community facilities as a commissary, clubhouse, and school were provided. Since the close of the war many new family quarters have been added.

Paraiso's growth this year, however, will be its biggest, at least since the early construction period.

The houses being built at Paraiso under the contract with Tucker McClure are all two-family, masonry structures. The Housing Division has announced that residents in Red Tank will be assigned to the new quarters.

From: The Panama Canal Review ... July 4, 1952

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Presented by CZBrats
November 14, 1998

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