Toa Baja is known as the “City of the Toa Valleys,” the “Underwater City” and the “People of the Plains.” The patron saint is San Pedro Apóstol. The municipality is approximately 62.4 square kilometers (24 square miles) in area and has 94,085 residents (2000 Census), who are called toabajeños. Its territory is divided into the sectors of Toa Baja Pueblo, Sabana Seca, Palo Seco, Campanillas, San José, Ingenio, Candelaria and Media Luna.
During the late 20th century, the dominant industries in the municipality were manufacturing of metal, plastic, concrete, textiles, electronic products and liquor. Fruit is also grown and dairy cattle are raised here. According to the Department of Agriculture (2002), Toa Baja had only three farms, which represents a decrease of 86 percent from the 22 that existed in 1998.
Toa Baja is bordered on the north by the Atlantic ocean, on the west by the municipality of Dorado, on the south by Toa Alta and on the east by the municipalities of Cataño and Bayamón. Geographically, it is part of the region called the northern coastal plain. Its land is very fertile.
The municipality’s hydrological system consists of La Plata (Toa) River, the longest river on the island, and the Cocal canal and various streams.
The name of the municipality comes from the Taino word toa, which means “mother” and was the original name of La Plata River. The word baja refers to the huge extensions of plains that characterize the territory of Toa Baja.
The founding of Toa Baja is the subject of some debate, as some historians assert that it took place in 1745 while others say that it was founded several years later. By the end of that century, the settlement in the area was known as the La Ribera de Toa and was classified as a hamlet. Along the shores of the Toa River, the former site of the cropland of the Taino Chief Aramana, Juan Ponce de Leon established the King’s farm. The Taino Indians who lived in the area, also known as Santa Elena, were used to provide labor. Some say this was the first experimental agricultural station on the island. Here, vegetables brought from Europe were introduced and locally grown vegetables were improved.
By the end of the 16th century, Toa Baja’s agricultural and livestock activity grew. The banks of the Toa attracted numerous settlers during the century because of the richness of the alluvial land and the abundant fish. The first to settle there came from the Canary Islands. Originally, the municipality consisted of the sectors of Candelaria, Pájaros, Río Lajas, Espinosa, Tamarindo, Mucarabón and Dorado.
According to Brother Iñigo Abbad, the church in Toa Baja already existed when the first Taino uprising occurred. This indicates that it was one of the oldest churches on the island. It was built in 1759 as a parish and devoted to Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, San Pedro and San Matías. Today, it is dedicated to San Pedro Apóstol. In 1779, the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria chapel was blessed and opened on El Plantaje Estate. When the town of Trinidad de Palo Seco was founded in 1839, the chapel served as a place of worship for the residents of that community.
In 1776, there were 162 farms, six ranches, twelve sugar plantations and a sugar cane press that was owned by Agustín Losna. Oranges, lemons, guava and melao fruit grown in the region was sent to San Juan. Also produced in Toa Baja were sugar, honey, brandy, corn, rice and a little coffee. Cultivation of tobacco began in the following century. In 1788, the population of Toa Baja was 414 families, or 2,203 people.
Each year, the rising river caused serious damage to the residents and their crops, which affected the residents economically. In 1841, the crisis was so bad that a group of residents asked to move the town to the Altura del Dorado, but the majority was opposed. The following year (1842), the municipality of Dorado was created, and in 1860, the residents of Toa Baja asked to be annexed to the town of Dorado because their town had suffered a serious crisis due to a decline in business and agriculture. The transfer never took place.
Thanks to its fertile land, the cultivation of sugar cane prospered, which played an important role in the region. In 1878, Toa Baja had four sugar cane plantations with steam-powered machinery and two oxen-powered cane presses. Among the most important plantations were the Media Luna, founded by Cipriano Nevárez with 60 cuerdas of land, and the Santa Elena, founded in 1790 by Juan Rijus Feduchi, 100 cuerdas in size. In 1897, theCentral Constancia sugar mill, owned by Gerardo Soler, was founded. It had 450 cuerdas planted in cane.
The central sugar mills and plantations required a huge number of workers. Slaves were used by the industry. On March 26, 1843, the slaves marched on the town and took over the kings house. Despite their efforts, they eventually were defeated by the militia.
The productivity of its land and the development of the sugar industry in Toa Baja made the town one of San Juan’s main producers of food and contributor to its economic development. As the population of the capital grew, the consumption of produce from Toa Baja’s farms and plantations increased.
In the early 20th century, Toa Baja, like other municipalities, was incorporated into the municipality of Bayamón through the Law for the Consolidation of Certain Municipal Terms of 1902. Three years later, the Puerto Rico Legislature overturned the law and reconstituted Toa Baja as an independent municipality with the same sectors it had in 1902.
Despite the transformation of the island’s economy, Toa Baja continued to produce sugar until the final decades of the 20th century. The Proportional Benefit Farm, operated by the Lands Authority and its subsidiary, the Sugar Corporation of Puerto Rico, harvested 49,474 tons of sugar cane which in turn produced 3,616 tons of sugar by the middle of the 1970s. In the same era, there were nine first-class dairy farms.
At the turn of 21st century, Toa Baja is characterized by its liquor, textiles and electronics industries, as well as the growth of construction of numerous residential developments.
The flag of Toa Baja was designed in 1980. Its colors are gold and green, with keys of gold and silver. The green band alludes to the plains of Toa; the gold color represents the sun that bathes the plains. The crossed keys symbolize San Pedro Apóstol, patron saint of the municipality. In a similar form, the keys, in relief, are featured on the silver front piece of the altar in the San Pedro Apóstol Toa Baja Parish Church.
Coat of Arms
The Toa Baja coat of arms consists of a field of gold with a waving green band with a gold key atop a silver key in the band. To the right of the keys is a Gothic “F” with a gold crown, and to the left is a “J” that is also Gothic and crowned in gold.
The green band is accompanied by three manioc plants with five leaves on each one. Above is the crown wall in gold, with three masonry towers. Surrounding the coat of arms on the sides and crossing at the bottom point are two sugar cane stalks with leaves and topped off with flowers.
The wavy green band represents the Toa River, one of the first ones mentioned in the annals of Puerto Rico and along whose banks Juan Ponce de Leon established the first settlement in Puerto Rico.
The crossed keys symbolize San Pedro Apóstol, patron saint of the town. The crowned “F” and “J” represent Don Fernando II of Aragón and Castilla, and his daughter, Doña Juana, ruler of Castilla and León, and refer to the names of the Catholic monarchs. The King’s Farm, known historically as the site dedicated to cultivating and acclimatizing agricultural products, was established along the Toa River by the colonialists in the era of these two monarchs.
The manioc plants allude to one of the principal crops of that farm and are a symbol of the Taino Indians who worked there, and whose main food source was casaba, or bread made from manioc. The crown wall is the traditional insignia of the coat of arms of towns, villages and cities. The sugar cane stalks allude to the cultivation of that crop and the sugar industry, which was a main source of wealth in Toa Baja, wealth represented by the gold field of the coat of arms.
Hon. Aníbal Vega Borges
Places of Interest
• El Cañuelo Fort
• Cabras Island
• Hermana Island
• Punta Salinas public beach
• Bacardí Rum tourism complex
• Central Constancia sugar mill
• Nuestra Señora del Carmen Catholic Church
• San Pedro Apóstol Catholic Church
• Santa Elena Estate
• Palo Seco thermoelectric plant
• Candelaria Chapel
• The Little Train
Virgilio Dávila – Puerto Rican poet.
Ernesto Juan Fonfrías – Lawyer, novelist, poet and essayist.
Manuel Padilla Dávila – Farmer and poet.
Teresina Delgado – Poet, orator and musical composer.
Luis M. Santiago – Teacher and author of the hymn of Toa Baja.
Pablo Pantoja Robles – Veteran of the United States armed forces and member of the municipal assembly. The Levittown Multi-Use Center was named for him posthumously.
Dra. Carmen A. Pantoja – First woman astronomer in Puerto Rico; associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Puerto Rico. She won the Nielsen Prize for her doctoral thesis. She worked in the Astrophysics Center (Harvard) and was science editor of the Astronomy Society’sTelescopium and of Universo.
• Artisans Festival – March
• Patron Saint Festival – June
• Beach Festival – July
• Musical Bands Festival – August
• Christmas Festival – December
Text taken from enciclopediapr.org
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