Vega Alta, founded in 1775, is known as the “Squatters Town” and its residents are called the “Pottery Makers.” According to popular history, the “Squatters Town” nickname comes from the habit of sugar cane workers to resting in a squatting position while waiting for the train that carried the cane, because the station did not have any seats.
Vega Alta covers an area of 72.8 square kilometers (28 square miles). The population is 37,910 (2000 Census). Vega Alta is divided into eight sectors: Bajura, Candelaria, Cienegueta, Espinosa, Maricao, Mavilla, Sabana and Vega Alta Pueblo. The patron saint festival is held around December 8 in honor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Vega Alta is located on the north coast of Puerto Rico. It is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by Morovis and Corozal, on the east by Dorado and Toa Alta and on the west by Vega Baja.
The municipality is part of the northern coastal plain and the island’s karst zone, which is why it has many limestone haystack hills called mogotes, caves, and sinkholes. The highest elevations are located in the Cienegueta sector, in the south of the municipality, which is part of the northern hills region, where maximum elevations reach 500 meters (1,640 feet) above sea level. In the Sabana sector are the Alto Breña and Cerro Gordo hills.
Among the geographic features of the coast are the Cerro Gordo point and the key that shares the same name. Vega Alta also has a system of caves called Santa Rosa-Monserrate, which extends underneath the surface of the communities of those names. Also, in the Bajura sector are two other subterranean caverns: Chiquita cave and Cafetal cave.
The municipality has a natural area called the Vega Alta forest, which extends to the border with Vega Baja. It is divided into three segments that cover a total of about 447 hectares. The forest received average annual rainfall of 1,695 millimeters (66.7 inches). Its elevation ranges from 5 to 50 meters (15 to 160 feet) above sea level.
The forest’s vegetation is typical of the karst zone. There are various species of palms and trumpet trees. The surface includes mogotes surrounded by depressions, as well as deep sinkholes. Vega Alta is irrigated by the Cibuco River and its tributaries, the Mavilla and Unibón Rivers.
The word vega refers to a low-lying, flat, fertile area. The geography of Vega Alta, and that of its neighboring municipality, Vega Baja, inspired their names. The municipalities are divided by the natural border of the Cibuco River. The east bank of the river was called Vega Alta and the west bank was called Vega Baja.
Gold was found in the river in the Spanish colonial era. Small grains of gold washed along by the current were deposited in depressions in the riverbed. The conquistadors relied on the Taino Indians to wash the sand and collect the metal. The indigenous community in the area was led by the chief Guacabó.
The area that is today Vega Alta was part of the governmental area called the Vega region within Manatí, according to documents from the San Juan Council of 1764. In 1774, with the support of 32 families, Don Francisco de los Olivos asked that the region be separated and a new town be formed devoted to Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and Patriarca San José de la Vega. Permission was granted in 1775 and the Partido de la Vega was officially founded on the east bank of the river. When Vega Baja was founded a year later, the names were changed to Vega Alta and Vega Baja to differentiate between the two “vegas.”
According to Memorias de Melgarejo, in 1831 the municipality had five sectors in addition to the town center: Candelaria, Cienegueta (instead of Cenagueta), Espinosa, Mariana and Monicado. In 1854, according to documents of the Office of Public Works, there were three additional sectors, Bajura, Mavilla and Sabana, and the Mariana sector had disappeared.
In 1878, the name of the Monicado sector was changed to Maricao, the name it still has today. In the 1899 census, the Cienegueta and Mavilla sectors appeared as parts of the Novillo sector, although in 1910 they were once again listed under their original names.
On October 12, 1898, Mayor Francisco Vega received the U.S. troops and raised the United States flag over Vega Alta for the first time in its history. On March 1, 1902, the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly approved the Law for the Consolidation of Certain Municipal Terms in Puerto Rico, which stipulated that Vega Alta would be annexed to Vega Baja. However, in 1905, the Puerto Rico Legislature revoked the law of 1902. The municipality of Vega Alta once again became a municipality with the same borders and territorial organization as before.
Among the crops grown in Vega Alta today are grains, fruits, plantains, ornamental plants and flowers. The livestock industry includes cattle, dairy, pork and poultry operations. Production of meat, milk and eggs is an important sector of the economy. Factories in the municipality produce diverse products, including electrical equipment, furniture, food, chemicals, plastics and others.
The Vega Alta flag was inspired by the design of the municipal coat of arms.
It is divided vertically into seven bands: four white, two green and a central band of blue. The central band represents the patron saint, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the white represents the purity of the virgin. The green alludes to Francisco de los Olivos, founder of the town.
Coat of Arms
The Vega Alta coat of arms was designed by Roberto Biascochea Lota. It consists of three bands. The central band consists of a silver amphora holding a branch of lilies, which symbolizes the patron saint of Vega Alta. The white bands on the sides symbolize the purity of the patron saint and the olive branches represent the founder of the town, Francisco de los Olivos.
The crown indicates its status as a town. It is distinguished from those that have four towers, and are classified as villages, and those that have five and are denominated as cities. Two sugar cane branches appear around the coat of arms, alluding to the economic importance of the sugar industry.
Hon. Isabelo “Chabelo” Molina Hernández
Places of Interest
• Golondrinas cave
• Inmaculada Concepción de María Church
• Gilberto Concepción de Gracia Plaza
• Vega Alta Forest
• Cerro Gordo public beach
Gilberto Concepción de Gracia – Lawyer, politician and founder of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
Ladislao “El Maestro Ladí” Martínez Otero – Musician and composer.
Rita Maldonado de Bear – Professor of Economics and Finance in the United States.
Juez Gilberto Ramírez – Family Court judge in the Supreme Court of New York.
Bernie Williams – Professional baseball player and musician.
• Three Kings Festival – January
• Singing of the Rosaries – February
• Vega Alta Carnival – February
• Kite Festival – April
• Virgen del Carmen Parade – July
• Rooster Festival – October
• Patron Saint Festival – December
Text taken from enciclopediapr.org
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