the connection between . . .

Casa Mexilio & Hacienda Xcanchakan

A Stately Hacienda

     "In 1842, the celebrated American explorer John Lloyd Stephens, accompanied by the artist Frederick Catherwood, journeyed across Yucatan in search of lost Maya cities.

     Since there were then no hotels or inns, travelers of substance like Stephens, arranged to stay at the rural haciendas of the Mérida elite. Although some were more palatial than others, most haciendas at that time, before the advent of the henequen boom in the late 1800s, were working agricultural or cattle raising estates that in most cases dated back to the colonial era.

     Hacienda Xcanchakán was one of several large estates that belonged to the Solis family, leading members of the interrelated Yucatan landowning class and ruling elite. Located near the town of Tecoh, it was originally founded as an encomienda and was one of the most southerly of the great colonial estates. Formerly confined to the raising of corn and cattle, it prospered as a sugar plantation during the boom of the early 1800s. It was during this time that Stephens made his visit. Later, it was converted into a henequen estate, the epitome of industrialized agriculture, another boom that flourished briefly from the late 1800s into the early 1900s.

     Architecturally, the hacienda buildings reflect its changing fortunes over the centuries. The earliest structures were built using cut stone, supposedly brought from the ruins at nearby Mayapan. The original main house, or casa principal, is an impressive three story building, unique among hacienda buildings in Yucatan, with lobed arcades on the two upper levels. An arcaded breezeway, also with moorish style arcades and a raised belfry, or espadaña, links the main residence to the adjacent noria, or well house. The other side of the casa is faced along its entire length by another attractive arcade.

     A range of later industrial structures, including the engine house and vast machinery shed, leads off at right angles. These buildings, now abandoned along with much of their rusting machinery, are extremely plain, with simple arcades and metal roofs.

     Only the chapel, across the courtyard from the main house, reflects the neoclassical taste of the era in which it was erected, as evidence its blocky espadaña and bulls-eye window."

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 During the early decades of the 19th century. During the sisal era, the owners of the hacienda were Vicente Solís Rosales and later Vicente Solís León. From 1914, the property remained in the hands of the Solís Cámara family.

Jorge, one of the owner's of present day Casa Mexilio, was born on the hacienda. He remembers it as a happy place because his grandfather was a very important man, living in a well built house with a roof of French tiles, located near the Big House.

One of his aunts lived in a dwelling perched on a high rock shelf with views of the plaza where the white processed sisal was put out to dry.  I remember visiting her one day.  Of course, in the early 80s things had changed a lot.  But I remember that she gave Jorge a chair.  These party chairs were hung from the high ceiling and painted with a mixture of lime and water to ward off insects.  It was one of the few things that remained from the happy times of fiestas and corridas.  Today it can be found in the hotel, and will tell its story, if you ask.

Fernando Solis Cámara was the owner of both Xcanchacan Hacienda and the mansion at 495 68th Street (now Casa Mexilio) and Jorge occupies a room which once belonged to its lord and master.  It's the same room where President Lázaro Cárdenas met with Fernando Solis and his comite of hacendados to debate the terms of the Expropriation Decree of all of Yucatan's haciendas in 1936.

After the Decree and subsequent breakup of the haciendas by Presidente Gral. Lazaro Cardenas, the brothers, Fernando and Pedro, left Merida with their families and moved to Mexico City, making their residencies there.

Back at the hacienda:  For Jorge's family, the relative wealth, excellent standing in the community, privileged address, large house and preferential job description of his grandfather, Feliciano Cámara, was a mystery.  He was president of the gremio which planned and put on the large fiestas.  And he was always heading  important meetings in the Main Hacienda Building. They say that he was tall and well educated, a lover and owner of many horses, well-respected -- and he had the same last name as the former owner of the hacienda -- Cámara.

 

Things happen, as they say.                           . . .   by Roger Lynn

* Here we reproduce John Lloyd Stephens' account of his visit to the hacienda in 1842:

"It was nearly dark when we reached the stately hacienda of Xcanchakan, one of the three finest in Yucatan, and containing nearly seven hundred souls. The house is perhaps one of the best in the country, and being within one day's ride of the capital, and accessible by calesa [carriage], it is a favourite residence of its venerable proprietor. The whole condition of the hacienda showed that it was often subject to the master's eye, and the character of that master may be judged of from the fact that his major-domo, the same who was attendant upon us, had been with him twenty-six years.
I have given the reader some idea of a hacienda in Yucatan, with its cattle-yard, its great tanks of water and other accessories. All these were upon a large and substantial scale, equal to any we had seen; and there was one little refinement in their arrangement, which, though not perhaps intended for that purpose, could not fail to strike the eye of a stranger. The passage to the well was across the corridor, and, sitting quietly in the shade, the proprietor could see every day, passing and repassing, all the women and girls belonging to the estate.
Our friend the cura of Tekoh was still with us, and the Indians of the hacienda were within his curacy. Again immediately upon our arrival the bell of the church was tolled to announce his arrival to the sick, those who wished to confess, marry, or be baptized. This over, it struck the solemn note of the oracion, or vesper prayers. All rose, and, with uncovered heads stood silent till the last note died away, all, according to the beautiful injunction of the Catholic Church, breathing an inward prayer.
Then they bade each other a buenas noches, each kissed the cura's hand, and then, with his petata, or straw hat, in his hand, came to us, bowing respectfully, and wishing each of us also the good night.”