Track 3: For Power or For Passage: Re-envisioning Historic Industrial and Transportation Infrastructure

General Abstract

“A Hundred Devious Turns”: Preserving Puerto Rico Route 15, the old Cayey to Guayama Road

Tuesday, September 25
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC-106AD

Though only 26 km (16.25 miles) long, State Route 15 in Puerto Rico is a feat of nineteenth-century engineering and building. Built between 1887 and 1897, this highway finally conquered for wheeled transport the notoriously difficult Sierra de Cayey segment of Puerto Rico’s mountain divide, providing the shortest route between the north and south coasts of the island.

Its building required many revisions, as found conditions defied expectations of the Spanish-trained engineers in charge. Nevertheless, this twisty road of “a hundred devious turns” (as a poet rhapsodized, the actual number is four times that) has hardly been altered in over 120 years. It keeps its original 99 culverts, two iron bridges, four roadkeepers’ houses, a milepost (out of 27), and a lime kiln. Widened in the mid-twentieth century, its pavement changed from macadam to asphalt, and houses and shops appeared at the roadside. But it keeps the nineteenth-century alignment and structures. Also significant are the early twentieth-century summer houses (“quintas”) of wealthy families, mostly from the hot lowlands of Guayama and Arroyo, destination points of this road.

With more driver-friendly alternate roads opened later, by 2000 this route devolved into an access for locals, though that year a jogging/cycling route was successfully promoted on the higher segments. Since 2010 there has been a conscious effort to protect Route 15’s historic assets with a two-pronged strategy of historical research and community activism.

Archival and published document research seeks facts about its origins, construction, and early use. These will be used to seek formal designation of the full highway as a historic resource (nowadays only one bridge is protected). Meanwhile, the communities on the southern segments organized a loose network of several working groups, one of them focused on heritage protection. This team liberated and stabilized the lime kiln, “reinaugurated” in May of 2013.

Other community members maintained a 1930s “quinta” with an impressive view of sea and mountains, as the owners – an estate – permitted its locally-resident caretaker to administer it liberally. It has been opened for community and cultural functions and minor repairs have been made, though Hurricane Maria in 2017 severely damaged it.

Tourism has been promoted by empowering and training local residents in interpretation of the “reinterpreted” historic assets; information “liberated” from dusty archival folders has been disseminated to the public by means of conferences, print documents and appearances in media (especially television). The main drawbacks have been the unattended disrepair of the southern half of the road and the slow hurricane-relief efforts (as of March 2018, 78.5% of the road’s length has no electricity) that have forced the community to focus on more pressing, immediate survival needs.

Learning Objectives:

Jorge Ortiz-Colom, Registered Architect, Puerto Rico

Preservation Architect
Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña

Preservation Architect since 1987 at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Assigned to the Southern Region (Ponce) since 1991. With a M.Arch. Degree from the University of Puerto Rico (1980), he has been studying for a Ph.D. in History at the Center for Advanced Studies in San Juan. In his professional work he has focused on historic typologies, traditional materials, especially wood, and the preservation of infrastructures, of which Road 15 between Cayey and Guayama has been a priority. He has worked on outreach, research and exchange of knowledge about heritage preservation issues.


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Nancy Rankin, AIA/Leed AP

John G. Waite Associates, Architects

Nancy A. Rankin, AIA, is a principal with John G. Waite Associates, Architects and has been an integral part of the firm, managing some of their many prominent historic preservation projects including New York City's Tweed Courthouse; The Cincinnati Union Terminal in Cincinnati, OH; the Nassau County Government Operations Center in Mineola, NY; and Hamilton Grange, the home of Alexander Hamilton in Harlem, NY. Ms. Rankin currently oversees the firm’s New York City office and is managing the interior restoration of Cincinnati Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ms. Rankin is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


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“A Hundred Devious Turns”: Preserving Puerto Rico Route 15, the old Cayey to Guayama Road

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