Ponce History Museum
The Museum of the History of Ponce was inaugurated in 1992, under the administration of Mayor Rafael Cordero Santiago, as part of the tercentennial celebration of the founding of Ponce (1692). The idea of creating a Ponce history museum dates back to the 1930s, following a citizen's group initiative but the project did not materialize. Interest in the proposal revived some years later, under the Secretariat of Culture. It was to be constructed on the block bordered by Isabel, Mayor, Cristina, and Salud streets. The Casa Salazar and the Casa Zapater, two historic Ponce homes, were acquired, as was the empty lot where Casa Shuck Gelpí had once stood. The project then came to a standstill. It started up again, with modifications, at the end of the 1980s. This second phase was directed by Ms. Maruja Candal Salazar and Dr. Neysa Rodríguez Deynes (curator and founder), in conjunction with a team of curators (Lizette Cabrera Salcedo, Dr. José Molinelli, Alberto del Toro, and J. A. Figueroa Irizarry) together with museum specialists Aníbal Sepúlveda, Néstor Barretto, and Jorge Carbonell, members of the Carimar Research Center. The four-year period from 1989 to 1992 saw the restoration of the Salazar and Zapater houses as home to the Museum, and the completion of the research, planning, and design of its first four permanent exhibit halls (ecology, panorama, economic activity, and architecture) with one space for temporary exhibitions.
In 1994, the second phase of the project was initiated, under the direction of Lizette Carbrera Salcedo: the creation of two permanent exhibits, one focused on health and one entitled "Ponce in Puerto Rican Political Life, in addition to a multimedia presentation "Ponce is Ponce." In 1998, the Ernesto Ramos Antonini auditorium, designed by architect José Bermúdez, was inaugurated under the direction of Lizette Carbrera Salcedo, at the location of the old Shuck Gelpí House.
Ten years after it’s founding, the Museum of the History of Ponce has become one of Puerto Rico's most active cultural centers. It provides a wide variety of cultural offerings that strengthen and increase awareness of the study of Puerto Rican and Ponceño history. As part of the 10th anniversary celebrations, the third and last phase of the museum's development has begun. This includes two permanent exhibits on education and daily life, and the creation of a general museum catalog.
The Permanent Exhibits of the Museum
Ecology – The first exhibition hall depicts the land and climate of the municipality: its coast, plains, and mountains. It shows how the city's natural surroundings are the departure point for learning about its history. It includes a scale model of the municipality, with illustrations of its fertile soils, natural resources, and native fauna.
Curator: Dr. José Mollinelli
Panorama – Human beings make an entrance in this exhibit describing how humans interact with their environment. The Panorama hall presents the origins of the settlement at Ponce and the evolution of its population from pre-Hispanic times through the beginnings of the twentieth century. It includes the regions and countries from which the present inhabitants originated, emphasizing Ponce’s heterogeneous populace. A scale model of the city shows Ponce in its greatest era of development, at the end of the nineteenth century.
Curator:: Dra. Neysa Rodríguez Deynes
Politics – This focuses on Ponce's role in Puerto Rico’s politics and the local political life of the people of Ponce. The exhibit occupies two rooms. The first illustrates the political development of Puerto Rico from 1508 until the 1950s. Photographic murals, documents, photographs, and objects reveal the most significant periods in Puerto Rican political life and Ponce’s leading role in this development. The second room explains the creation of the Free Associated Commonwealth, and the life and work of governors native to Ponce: Luis A. Ferré and Rafael Hernández Colón, or Roberto Sánchez Vilella, who claimed it as his adoptive city. Among the most significant pieces is the Prince of Asturias Literature Prize (Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras), a small bronze created by the famous Spanish sculptor Joan Miró.
Economic Activity – One of the most significant themes in the Museum, economic development is the largest factor in the city's growth from its founding through the present day. The development of the port, agriculture, industry, and banking has supported Ponce's economic development, which in turn has significantly nourished its cultural, social, and intellectual development.
Curator: Lizette Cabrera Salcedo
Architecture and Urban Development – The evolution of Ponce's urban landscape is illustrated in successive periods of development. The exhibit presents the city’s architects and highlights typical elements of Ponce's native architecture. It includes domestic, military, and institutional architecture, public works and the evolution of open space that define this city as a traditional urban center of importance. The hall includes a scale model of the city's urban development, and a photographic montage including plans, buildings, architects, and art installations.
Curator:: Arq. Alberto del Toro
Health and Medicine – This exhibit shows the creation and evolution of Ponce’s principal health institutions from 1863 until the present day and the medical community from the early twentieth century until the 1940s. It also presents significant events in health, e.g., from Dr. Bailey K. Ashford's discovery of the parasite that causes local or uncinaria anciloestomiasis to the country's first kidney transplant. The exhibit includes documents, photographs, prescriptions, professional awards, and personal objects once belonging to Ponce physicians.
"Ponce Is Ponce" Multimedia Presentation
This audiovisual presentation completes the Museum exhibits, illustrating over 300 years of Ponceño and Puerto Rican history. It covers the period from settlement by indigenous peoples to the present.
Script: Mirna Casas y Lizette Cabrera Salcedo
Production: Vigué Film.
Duration: 35 minutos.
The mission of the Museum of the History of Ponce is to promote the research, conservation, and dissemination of the historic heritage of Ponce and Puerto Rico.
To become an active location for cultural education and to make the community aware of the importance of studying and conserving the historic and cultural resources of the city..
During the collection’s research and acquisition phase, the involvement of Ponce citizens deserves recognition. Without their participation, the Ponce History Museum would not have become a reality. To date, more than 200 people have lent or donated the photographs, documents, and objects that make up the collection.
Currently the collection has over 3,000 photographs, documents, pieces of furniture, and objects on display in the exhibition halls, or conserved in the Museum's storage areas. The most important collections include:
Collection: Manuel Dr. Manuel de la Pila Iglesia
Donor: Dr. Manuel Porrata
Period: 1898 –1950
Description: Documents, photographs, and personal objects of Dr. Manuel de la Pila Iglesia that show the evolution of health and medicine in Ponce during the early and middle 20th century.
Collection: Juan Sisco Santiago
Acquisition by the Museo de la Historia de Ponce
Description: Documents, publications, objects, and photographs by the famous Ponce photographer illustrating the political, social, cultural and economic daily life of Ponce during the second half of the 20th century.
Collection: Dra. Ana Dolores Pérez Marchand
Donor: Irem Poventud
Description: Photographs, documents, publications, and personal items of Ponce’s first woman physician, and the third in Puerto Rico, Ana Dolores Pérez Marchand. This provides a valuable resource for studying the role of women at the beginnings of the 20th century, and the development of health and medicine in Puerto Rico.
Collection: Emilio J. Pasarell
Donor: Brunilda Yordán Zepperfield
Period: 1900 – 1920
Description: Collection of postcards by Ponce photographer José Rodríguez Serra. These offer a visual panorama of Ponce’s streets, public and private buildings, plazas, and businesses between 1900 and1920.
Collection: Mariana Suárez de Longo
Donor: Mariana Suárez de Longo
Period: 1949 – 1970
Description: Correspondence, invitations, graduation cards, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and photographs of educational activities in Ponce between 1949 and 1970.
Collection: Ramón López Crespo
Donor: Ramón López Crespo
Period: 1960 – 1980
Description: Photographs, posters, programs of cultural events, magazines, letters, newspapers, postcards, flyers for musical and theatrical events, illustrating cultural life and events in Ponce between 1960 and 1980.