Celebrating Monteverde Day in Campbell's Bullpen

Every year, the 19th of April is celebrated as Monteverde Day. This is the anniversary of the date in 1951 when three members of the Quaker community first set foot on the green mountain that would soon become their new home. Hubert Mendenhall, John Campbell and Howard Rockwell Sr. visited the area with Ingo Kalinowsky who, along with his brother-in-law Eduardo Saxe, held title to a significant amount of land on that mountain in the name of the Guacimal Land Company (GLC). Ingo took the men to see an area known as Cerro Plano (flat hill).

There were at least a half-dozen homesteading families who were living in the area when the Quakers came. These were Costa Ricans (Ticos) who were taking advantage of the “squatter’s rights” laws that existed in Costa Rica. A family could claim up to 300 hectares by making “improvements” on it – cutting trees, planting crops, and building a structure. After one year they could lay claim to it, and after ten years they could apply for the legal title to it.

Clearings and forest

In Cerro Plano, much of the forest had been cleared when the Quakers arrived, but on the slopes above there were still tracts of virgin woods. Ticos were already raising livestock and growing corn, coffee, flaxseed, and cane for moonshine (guaro as it is known). There was a small school and church and a few houses scattered throughout the area. Ruben Ugalde had a saw mill and a trapiche run by a water-powered pelton wheel on the Quebrada Cuecha (Cuecha Stream). This was the main creek that provided the area with fresh potable water and flowed into the Río Guacimal (Guacimal River) just downstream.

The three Quakers returned to the rest of the group with enthusiasm, saying that this was the best land that they had seen in their six months of searching, so they decided to make an offer. After a couple of weeks of negotiations, they reached an agreement with the GLC to pay 400,000 colones (roughly $50,000US at the time) for 2000 manzanas (3500 acres or 1400 hectares). The land was registered in Hubert Mendenhall’s name, as he agreed to advance most of the money for the purchase (Arthur Rockwell also provided initial funds.) Hubert acted as the group’s representative in the deal, which agreed that the property would be subdivided for individual ownership at a later date. The land lay at about 1200 m – 1400 m and had two, mostly cleared, relatively level “steps” that were sheltered to the north and east by steeper, forest-covered slopes rising to 1800+ m in elevation.

The Guacimal Land Company held the title to the land but to sell to the Quakers they would first have to buy out the squatters or settlers who were living there. On May 7, the deal was made for 2000 manzanas and this was the amount of land that the Quaker families considered as they divided it by each family’s land requirements and budgets. However, when surveyors came up the mountain in early May to map the land that had been seen and agreed upon on that first trip in April, the land only totaled a little more than 700 manzanas. Eduardo Saxe was intent on keeping more of the level land himself as he planned on making a landing strip for small planes. Thus it was necessary to look beyond the plateaus and include the forested slopes to make up the difference.

First Monteverde Map

So the surveyors added the wooded slopes above the community as part of the 2000 manzanas deal, including the highest peak in the area known then as Chico’s Mountain. It was called this after Francisco (Chico) Ugalde, Ruben’s son, who had a small house there. It was later renamed by the surveyors as Cerro Amigos. The final survey enclosed a total of 1703 manzanas. In this way, the community of Monteverde incorporated the mostly primary forest at the top of the mountain as well as almost all the land that drained into the headwaters of the Quebrada Cuecha.

Community lunch where "Monteverde" was named

On May 16, 1951, the group collectively decided to call their new community “Monteverde”, the green mountain. The following day, the first jeeps and trailers started transporting the new residents and their household goods up the mountain.

Each family decided how much land they wanted, based on what they could afford and what they wanted to do with it. Some of the older people wanted to be close to the community center and have immediate road access while others wanted land that was already cleared. Some were willing to be further away and develop their own road and clearings, and were happy to have more forest. To determine land prices, one member of the group, Reuben Rockwell, devised a method of valuing the land and the group worked at deciding how much each family should pay. The most level, tillable land and that already cleared or with crops was assigned the most value, steep lands that were good for pasture but too steep for cultivation had a lesser value, and land that should be kept in forest due to slope or location (such as near streams or cliff edges) was valued the least. River frontage in the central locations was also given more value.

How trees grow in Monteverde (oak)

As the land was being divided, people came to realize that they didn’t necessarily need as much land as they originally thought. Vegetation grows at a much faster rate than in North America and the reality of keeping large areas cleared made people consider owning smaller properties. It was also discovered, as the rainy season set in, that the higher up the mountain you went, the wetter it got and the more difficult it would be to have a successful farming operation. Most of the families took higher-priced land with more clearings which left a shortage of funding by the individual families for the areas that would remain part of the community holdings. Some centrally-located land was kept for community buildings and a tract of flat land near the cliff edge was held for a planned airstrip. (Despite the intentions of Eduardo Saxe and later the Quakers, the extreme windiness of the area deemed it too dangerous to attempt landing planes and an airstrip was never realized.) The slopes of mostly primary forest at the top of the mountain were put in the marginal and sub-marginal categories as they were too high in elevation for farming and too steep for clearing.

Roughly 1000 manzanas was set aside and the other 700 manzanas was divided into farm lots. Once lot prices were determined, and the properties were mapped (by community member John Campbell, with others assisting), people began to pay back Hubert Mendenhall for his initial cash advance. The community properties remained in Hubert’s name and the families were to pay him a percentage (according to their own property holdings) to offset the costs of the communal lands. On the 8th of July 1952, the community members officially divided the land following the completion of the survey.

The group as a whole decided that they would keep that large area at the top of the mountain, known locally as Ochomogo (later shortened to ‘Chomogo’), as the Watershed Property. The land was considered “valdias”, which is uncultivated, unclaimed government forest. It neighbored the Mata family pastures which were bought by Hubert Mendenhall as marginal land and eventually sold to the Fogden and Lowther-Green families. Chico Ugalde was homesteading in the western piece of the watershed land and the Gonzalez family also had a piece. It was nearly all virgin forest that encompassed the headwaters of the feeder streams, in particular the Rio Guacimal. There were only three small clearings, a trail, and one simple structure called a “rancho”. The community made the decision to prohibit any other intervention in this area. As Marvin Rockwell, one of the original Monteverde settlers said, it was both a practical decision to protect their watershed but also “an inspiration from God” that would serve them well as a community for eternity.