Sunday, March 22, 2009

Company Towns

Our travels up the Sea of Cortez have brought us to the town of Santa Rosalía, which looks and feels different from any other place we have visited in Baja. Santa Rosalía was a center of copper mining and smelting in the late 19th and early 20th century, an operation owned for most of that time by a French corporation. Nearly all the buildings in the town are constructed of wood shipped here from the Pacific Northwest. The simpler buildings look like something out of any old Western town in the states; more elaborate buildings have balconies, verandas, tall windows, and other details that show the French influence.

The most famous building in town is the little church made of sheet metal (shown above), which was designed by and fabricated for Gustave Eiffel, who hoped it would be a prototype for French mission churches in remote, tropical locations. Although the design won a prize at the 1889 Paris World Exposition (where the Eiffel Tower was also featured), the idea of a prefabicated metal church didn't catch on, and the owner of the mining company bought the pieces and brought them to Santa Rosalía, where they were reassembled. It's a surprisingly pleasing structure, with handsome detail pressed into the metal cladding.

But French influence aside, Santa Rosalía reminds us of company towns we have encountered in our travels - from Ocean Falls in remote British Columbia to Samoa on the shores of Humboldt Bay in Northern California (both pulp mill towns); from Butte, Montana to Bisbee, Arizona (mining towns). These places get built up and organized and inhabited with great energy and investment, and they develop an air of purpose and prosperity. Then the timber or the ore on which they depended gets used up, and jobs disappear, leaving only the shell of the purposeful operation.

Santa Rosalía has survived well, and the town is still energetic and densely populated. Every tiny wooden cottage seems to be inhabited, and bursts with flowers, as if the small graceful French details inspire a different aesthetic than is found in most small Baja towns. Best of all, there is still a French bakery, with baguettes fresh every morning.


Blogger pinehurstpair said...

Your posts are such fun to explore. Enjoy those warm temps and lovely scenes as we all face the end of winter (aka the beginning of spring. Love to you both -- n & s

March 27, 2009 7:45 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

There is another Eiffel building in Iquitos, Peru out in the middle of the Amazon. It also appears equally slightly out of place.

April 10, 2009 12:38 AM  

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