FINCA LERIDA

In 1934, Nelson Rounsevell wrote “If there is someone whose life and activities are identified with the Isthmus and deserve that his achievements be written, that someone is Monniche.

Tollef Bache Monniche was born on August 27 of 1874 in Surnadalen, Norway. His parents were Carl Alexander Monniche and Sofia Gudrun Bache. He lived in his hometown during his early childhood, and in 1894 he graduated from Norway School of War in Oslo. He served as a lieutenant in the Norwegian Royal Army, while studying civil engineering in the University of Dresde, Germany. Where he graduated with honors in 1901. Almost immediately he moved to United States.

Since he graduated from the most advanced university of civil engineering, his professional career in the United States was astonishing. Among some of the works he undertook we find the viaduct of Manhattan Valley, the New York Subway (over Riverside Drive), the Railroad of Pennsylvania, many subways and elevated railways in Philadelphia (for Rapid Transit Co,). concrete retaining walls for the Subway of Philadelphia , The Railroad Station of Pennsylvania in Washington, the New York River Bridge and the East River Bridge (Both bridges in Virginia).

In October of 1907, Monniche receive a call from Washington proposing hime  a project for 10 years: the construction the Panama Canal. Tollef accepted and his first job as assistant engineer was in the Division of Locks and Dams in the Commission of Canal of the Isthmus, in Washington. But he was transferred the next year to Panama, as design engineer in charge of six emergency dams for the locks.

These Dams were a peerless element of the Canal. None of the characteristics of the unbelievable structure had precedents. It did not exist any model of design and the heaviest structure weighted around 2 800 tons. The Dams of Monniche, as they were called, weighted 3 400 tons.

Monniche finished the extraordinary work on 1914, so he was assigned as Dike Engineer in charge of the design and construction of Cristobal Dock Terminal of the Panama Railroad in Colon. In 1917, he resigned to the service and retired to leave in the mountains of Boquete with his wife.

The lovely wife of Monniche, Julia Trible Huger, was descendant of the first colonizing families of the United States. Her grandfather was very well-known in the south, especially in Virginia, her hometown. Julia took with her to the high lands of Boquete a sword of her ancestors that was used in the Independence War of the Thirteen Colonies (1773 – 1783).

When Monniche arrived to Boquete, He bought from a farmer a property named “Lerida” (Named after a city founded by Moors in Spain). Even though he thought to stay just for a while to recover from the hard work of ten long years, he built a house with the wood from the place and began to consider to start a coffee farm.

In those times the journey took 5 days from Panama City to David, and 2 more days on horse to get to Boquete, where only one trail could take you to “Lerida”.

When the Monniche got to live there for the first time in “Lerida”, they used kerosene lamps and brought water from a brook. Mrs. Julia used to cook on a wood burning stove.

The singular couple ended up owning 365 hectares. Green coffee, vegetables, and diverse fruits like: strawberries, pears, blackberries, and plums surrounded their new home. From Guatemala, Monniche brought varieties avocados that today they grow all over Boquete. They raised turkeys, chicken, cows, and horses. They open and administrative office to supply their numerous employees with articles of first necessity.

Even though austere and disciplined, The Monniche knew how to earn the love of the people who met them. Tollef, overall, was a very fair man; he paid to every pawn regarding the job they had performed. Some of his foremen were: Andres Gutiérrez, Nicolas Guerra, Cruz Abrego and Zacarias Pitti.

Every Christmas, The Monniche order Brown, one of their employees to go the house of every of their employees to count how many children they had. The point of this census was to provide to every kid a present, some of which they were brought from the United States. On the same date they organize for the adults a ceremony with plenty of food and drinks.

In the minds of many the people of Boquete, they still conserve images of the airplanes from the United States that while flying of the farm they dropped packages requested by retired engineer and even his personal mail.

Even though, the disadvantage of the lack of roads and little water, Tollef developed a flourishing and beautiful coffee farm. A farm that has done a lot to put Boquete on the map. In 1929 the harvest was remarkable: 930 quintals (204 600 pounds) out of 12 000 coffee plants. The best part of this harvest was taken to Germany, where the first exportation of Panamanian coffee was well received, selling it 3 times more than the current price of that time.

Monniche conserved 100 hectares of the virgin jungle as his primordial reserve, and to obtain sufficient water to which process the coffee, he built a pond of 40 square feet and 7 of depth. He took 2 inch tubes by horse and men throughout “Lerida’s” trail to the virgin jungle in order to extract water. He himself built most of the machinery for the coffee and several of his inventions like the “sifon” are usually still used in Boquete.

But Mr. Monniche had a passion that later would be known abroad. He was a consecrated naturalist, and during his whole 4 decades he remained in the damp mountains of Boquete he dedicated to collect all species of bird he founded.

One day of 1956, due to his advance age, the Monniche abandoned forever Quiel. Sold their lands to Alfredo and Inga Collins and traveled to the United States. After spending sometime in Roanoke, Virginia, where the couple first got married, they relocated to Austin, Texas. He died on December of 1958, at the age of 84.

According to Rafael Guerra Ledezma, who as a child harvested coffee in the “Lerida” farm, when the news of the death of Mr.Monniche were known in Boquete, a minute of silence was requested  in many places as a sign of respect.

The bird collection of Monniche conform by many by the species of the mountains, was consider one of the best about bird in Chiriqui and was acquired by the Museum of  Natural History of Chicago in 1956.

Julia Monniche outlive her husband for many years. On October de 1964, living in Austin, Texas, she gave information to retired captain of the United States, Julius Grigore, for him to start an investigation on the orange grafted (Washington Navel) in Chiriqui.

On March 18 of 1960, Clark W. Thompson, Texas representative before the 86th session of the Congress of the United States, made public acknowledgement to government of that nation the talented Norwegian, who for 80 years led to lives, one as an outstanding engineer and the other horticulturist of immense merit, in both lives he was an extraordinary pioneer.

Tollef Bache Monniche, the man who according to George Goethals (colonel of the United States army) was one of most capable engineers designer of the Panama Canal, offering 40 years of his live to the hard work in the lands of Boquete. Here his creative genius stole the virgin jungle many thousands of fruits. That his input to the agriculture of the region and example of tenacious man be always remembered.