The term hacienda comes from ‘hacer’ which means to make something … in this case it was large estate where silver was produced. The word Jalisco comes from the Náhuatl words xali ixco meaning sandy surface.
A massive structure with two foot-thick adobe and rock walls, great wooden shutters and doors, connected by massive ceilings and skirted by faded fresco paintings. Each of the five individual guest rooms upstairs are adorned with antique furniture pieces, large bathrooms and fireplaces. Oil lamps are used as there is no electricity in the Hacienda’s guest rooms.
The ground level contains a combination library/dining room (now a museum of sorts), servants' quarters and a kitchen. Antiques, books, original maps, archeological artifacts, mining tools, and ledgers throughout room highlight the Hacienda's colorful history. An impressive wrap-around balcony offers views of the Sierra Madre range. Originally, the property had no electricity but today there are a few lights and AC plugs around the Hacienda ... I noticed a few solar panels on the well-weathered red tile roof.
Many Hollywood celebrities, such as Peter O’Toole, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, have stayed at Hacienda Jalisco. John Huston was a close friend of expatriate Bud Acord, a Hollywood artistic type who was responsible for renovating and maintaining the property for many years as its proprietor. He arrived in the early 1960s and found the 1840s style Hacienda Jalisco in a greatly dilapidated condition. Acord met film director Huston when he was filming the “Night of the Iguana” near Mismaloya Beach, a few miles South of Puerto Vallarta.
During its mining heyday, the European mine managers and their families lived in the upstairs rooms overlooking the courtyard where ore was pulverized using big grinding wheels (an example seen in the courtyard) driven by a water power. The stone wall ovens, used in the smelting operations, reached high temperatures from having the tallest chimney in the area. Remnants of the chimney remain behind the ovens. After extraction, the silver was melted into bars for transport. With the various toxic chemicals used to extract the silver from the ore, it was a dirty and unforgiving operation performed by the local Indians, but yielded riches for Spain. The rock in the mines was broken down with pick axes and carried out by workers in backpacks to waiting carts which were transported by mules to the smelters. The mine workers were paid in chits which they could cash out in the company stores
The mining boom ended with the Mexican Revolution in 1910 which dethroned the long-time, autocratic president at the time, Porfirio Diaz. Popular Mexican figures, such as Francisco Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata arose to take part in the rebellion against Díaz, and separate efforts eventually coalesced into what became known as the Mexican Revolution. Due to the turmoil and bloodshed, workers at the mines ran away, and during the subsequent eleven years of war, most of the furnishings and equipment were looted. The hacienda remained abandoned for almost half a century, until Bud Acord purchased it.
The mines were, in part, responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta. Then known as Las Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale, it was used to supply the mines with salt which was taken by mules up to San Sebastian and other mines in the High Sierras and used in the smelting process to extract silver and other materials from the ore. The silver and gold from the mines was sent, again by mule train through Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where it was sent, once a year, to Spain.
Today, it’s rumored that silver is still to be found in the surrounding hills, buried by former mine owners who feared bandidos. The owners never returned to claim it after the revolution. Ghosts have also been reported around the hacienda by persons staying overnight on the grounds.
In 2010, Endeavour Silver Corp. announced that it has acquired a multi-year option to purchase the San Sebastian silver-gold properties in Jalisco State, Mexico from IMMSA (Grupo Mexico), one of the largest mining companies in Mexico. The mine which has been dormant since its demise may re-open when the price of silver recovers from its current depressed levels. There is local controversy over the fact that the company plans open pit mining, thus changing the pastoral landscape of the area.
We hiked into the mountains to see one of the mines optioned by Endeavour. According to the hand-lettered sign in Spanish at the shaft entrance, Mina Sta. Gertrudis (St. Gertrude's Mine) dates from 1880 and runs 270 feet straight into the mountain. We walked in with flashlights until we reached a section where it has caved in. The shaft is high enough so I could stand up ... but just barely. It was registered as a silver mine for the Hacienda Jalisco and was worked by 12 men and 3 boys. St. Gertrude was a Benedictine mystic and theologian born in the 13th century. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Gertrude on November 16th.
Until a few years ago, the road was so bad it was impassible for a regular car and took most of the day for a 4-wheeler to make the 4500-foot climb into the pine country of San Sebastian and Hacienda Jalisco. Now the paved road makes the trip up in to the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains to San Sebastian a mere 1½ to 2 hour drive. The building of the Progresso Bridge was also big time saver. As in all of Mexico, you need to watch for the "topes" — so called speed bumps, many with no painted warning stripes, or the paint so worn off you don't see them until it's too late to avoid the jolt. And the pot holes ... some deep and unmarked. There is also a rustic airstrip for prop planes and small jets near the hacienda for the not-so-faint of heart.
Don't fool yourself ... if WiFi, television and nightlife is your cup of tea, then better stay somewhere else. But if you want to borrow a night from the past, this can be a tranquil place to stay. On top of the history of the place (you are spending the night above a museum), the grounds are serene, in rustic surroundings and the ambiance can ignite the imagination. Hiking in the cool pine forests is another activity to enjoy.
San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco. Mexico
Phone: + 52 (322) 22 29638
Cel: 044 322 107 7007
Atencion en Español
Cel 044 322 139 23 89