The Ancient Floating Gardens and Canals of Mexico City’s Xochomilco (“So-Cho-Mil-Co”) Part I

1950's colorized photo postcard of reclaimed and canalized Lake Xochimilco, along with farmers on canal boats.
1950’s colorized photo postcard of canalized Lake Xochimilco

Predating the Hispanic Period and geographically south of the main capital city of Mexico was an ancient large lake called Lake Xochomilco. Over the centuries, beautiful flowers and agricultural products were grown above the water on tall stalks, anchored to trees and filled in the rich mulch and soils from the lake bottom. Eventually, early farmers in the area separated by the capital city built canals and colorful canal boats for transit to and from the central Mexico City with their produce.

Over the centuries, Mexico City has grown outwardly, incorporating this former lake bed covering 48 square miles, sustaining a population of almost half a million, mostly farmers.  In 1928,  Xochomilco became recognized as an independent city.  For hundreds of years, these farmers cultivated their lush flowers, plants, and produce above the water, traveling on these colorful canal boats. On Sundays, tourists and townspeople have travelled to see these brightly colored boats filled with their produce for market. Some tourists have boarded these canal boats to tour these canals and view the ancient methods of growing produce.

Farmers on their canal boats tending to their crops above the waters of Lake Xochimilco.
Farmers on their canal boats tending to their crops

Despite Xochomilco’s status as an independent city, Mexico City has drained off much of the water for its own needs and drilled wells for more water, which has caused subsidence of the land created by the canal people who populated the Lake.  The draining off of potable water has left the lake people with degraded land above the water and non-potable water.  The need to protect this ancient cultural site has caused UNESCO to place Xochomilco on the World Heritage Sites list.

The Palm Beach Farms Company, Percy Hagerman, and Colorado silver mining

The Lake Worth Drainage District celebrated its (1915-2015) centennial yesterday.  Between 1915 and 1935, more than 125 drainage districts formed in Florida to prevent flooding.  Nineteen districts formed in Palm Beach County alone.  These local districts (secondary drainage) are under the supervisory control of the South Florida Management District (primary drainage).  Both monitor the weather closely and remain in close contact with each other.  The SFWMD has the final say over whether the flood gates should be open or closed, based upon the total amount of rainwater expected each day.

One of the largest secondary systems, the LWDD manages the water in an area once called the Palm Beach Farms, an immense agricultural operation that resulted from the public lands granted the Florida canal company that built the Intracoastal Waterway and Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and their subsidiaries from St. Augustine and Miami. In total, the Palm Beach Farms Company bought approximately 234 square miles of land from the Okeechobee Road to the south Palm Beach County line in 1912.  That land now lies within the Lake Worth Drainage District.  The principals behind the Palm Beach Farms Company in 1912 were silver mine owners and brokers from Colorado.  Headed by Percy Hagerman (1869-1950), the Florida farming company had been incorporated in Colorado.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hagerman graduated from Cornell University, and studied law for one year at Yale University.  Adding to his family’s immense wealth, Hagerman invested in railroads and mines in Colorado Springs where he resided, in addition to his investments in Florida real estate.  Old Percy Field at Cornell is named in honor of Hagerman; Hagerman Park at Colorado Springs is also named for Hagerman.  Hagerman was a master rower while attending Cornell. At Colorado Springs, Hagerman became famous as an artist throughout the West for his mountainscape paintings.