History

On the outskirts of the village of Soto lies somewhat hidden in the countryside, Landhuis Groot Santa Martha in Dutch, or in Papiamentu, Landhuis Santa Martha Grandi. Different groups of people have built a life on the territory that today hosts this monumental country house. The earliest societies consisted of Indians, followed by the Spanish-Indian society, subsequently the Dutch colonization followed and with them, enslaved Africans settled at Groot Santa Martha, whereupon small independent farmers inhabited the grounds after slavery was abolished.

 

Landhuis Groot Santa Martha is one of the oldest country houses in Curacao. The country house was built, tree centuries ago, around 1675. Ever since 1696 Groot Santa Martha was considered as plantation. In the early years the Groot Santa Martha Plantation was already famous for its cattle, sugar mill, indigo, distillery and fresh-water wells. Dividivi (Caesalpinia coriaria) pods were also exported and in 1797 there was still one working sugar mill. Towards the end of the 19th century, the sale of fruit and cattle for slaughter turned a handsome profit, while Santa Martha also produced 90% of the island's salt which was then shipped to the United States and the Netherlands (in The Netherlands particullarly for the curing of the beloved salted herring). The heavy work in and around the landhuis and in the saltpans was done by slaves who lived in huts on the land. The plantation consisted of 554 hectares (1,369 acres).

 

The bay nearby was named after Saint Martha, and later the country house was given the same title. Possibly this country house was used as a country retreat by West Indian Company dignitaries. Landhuis Groot Santa Martha has a quite unique architecture. The triangular fronts, with a rectangular frame work in the gable, only appears at Groot Santa Martha and Ascencion. Like all the other country houses on the island, Landhuis Groot Santa Martha is built of coral stone and rubble and plastered with lime mortar. The gable roofs are traditionally covered with Dutch tiles.

 

Landhuis Groot Santa Martha is a one of a kind country house with its U-shaped enclosed patio. In the 20th century, this patio was enclosed by a gate with a statue of Saint Martha. The current statue is a duplicate of the original one. Landhuis Groot Santa Martha and its plantation had several owners. Although no evidence has been found yet of the first owners of the plantation at

 

Landhuis Groot Santa Martha dating from the 17th century. It seems this plantation already existed under the direction of director Jan Donker, who had a relationship with this plantation since 1673. As of 1709 concrete data on the owners of the estate are available.

 

The successive owners of Landhuis Groot Santa Martha were:

  • 1709 - 1715 Gomes Family
  • 1715 - 1733 Family Schuurman
  • 1733 - 1742 Ellis Family / Kock
  • 1742 - 1743 Family Betch
  • 1743 - 1797 Family Berch / Ellis
  • 1797 - 1829 Family Rojer
  • 1829 - 1850 Family Doval
  • 1850 - 1886 The Family Haseth
  • 1886 - 1914 Family Haseth / Descend
  • 1914 - 1933 Family Schotborgh
  • 1933 - 1952 Family Van der Dijs
  • 1952 - present government Curacao

 

In 1933, the last owner, the family Van der Dijs, took possession of the plantation and the country house. In 1952 government of Curaçao bought the plantation and with it came a definite end to this historically very important plantation.

 

Originally the plantation consisted of an area of 554 hectares. When the government of Curaçao bought the plantation in 1952 part of the grounds of the plantation were given to farmers. The same government constructed houses, a school, a medical center, and a boarding school for boys, a football field and later on allowed for the construction of a hotel near the beach. As a result of these activities the area of Groot Santa Martha was reduced to 17 hectares (42 acres).

 

Shortly after 1952, the country house gradually experienced a period of neglect and decay and in 1970 a sheltered workshop was housed there. Landhuis Groot Santa Martha was renovated in 2002 with funds from Reda Soshal. The development fund has invested ANG 1.9 million in the mansion. The badly neglected country house and all its outbuildings were professionally restored. The building is a protected national monument.