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Valencia, land of wood
Valencia is a province of Spain, but it is also the name of a small community between Arima and Sangre Grande. The former is an old Spanish mission founded around 1786 and the latter a cocoa boom town that did not even exist until about 1890. Midway, on the borders of the ecologically rich Aripo savannah, were mighty forests of mora and other commercially viable wood.
Even so, the area remained well nigh forgotten until around 1816 when soldiers from black American regiments and the disbanded Black Corps of the West India Regiment were settled in the area. They had been slaves under the United States Constitution and had sided with the British in the war of 1812 and thus were freemen under the assurance of the Crown.
They were given 16 acres of land for every family unit and settled in the most remote areas possible. The scattered homesteads eventually gathered into a small village which was called Valencia. Many villagers lived as charcoal-burners.
A significant percentage of the charcoal consumed by Port-of-Spain came from the virgin high woods of Valencia, Tamana and Cumuto. In 1870, the great English writer, Charles Kingsley visited and wrote:
“We arrived after a while at Valencia, a scattered hamlet in the woods, with a good shop or ‘store’ upon a village green, under the verandah whereof lay, side by side with bottled ale and biscuit tins, bags of Carapo nuts; trapezoidal brown nuts enclosed originally in a round fruit which ought some day to form a valuable article of export.”
A pathway through Valencia led to even greater high woods near Sangre Grande and eventually to the East Coast. Most travellers to Mayaro had to use the island steamer since the roads were terrible and almost impassable in the wet season and many of the rivers were unbridged. Though small farming and charcoal were economic mainstays, logging of precious hardwoods also provided income.
The main drawback to timber becoming a goldmine was the lack of transport, since there were no large rivers to the sea and the roads were of course muddy paths. What timber was cut had to be sawn in single logs in sawpits and on sawhorses, which still made decent money for some people, since wood was the dominant construction material in Trinidad right up to the 1950s.
Valencia sprang to life with the coming of American forces in the 1940s. That was when the US air force and army began clearing the El Mamo forest near Cumuto for the construction of the Wallerfield Airbase and Fort Read. Suddenly, the area was of serious importance.
Agriculture and forestry suffered as labour left to work for American dollars, but the rumshops had a field day, since the Yankee boys sought entertainment. Valencia today is known for its proximity to large quarries in the Northern Range. In the 1950s, quarrying of gravel near Valencia began, devastating the forests, but providing employment which still is a mainstay of the village today.
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