O f i c i n a   A g u a  S a n t a

  Pero la pampa se nos fue muriendo.
Nunca creímos que estuviese enferma.
Que se vaciaran las esquinas.
Que se quedaran solas las viviendas.
Que el viento entrara por los patios muertos.
Que los perros se fueran
y cayera una gris, triste mortaja
sobre las calcinadas salitreras.

Nicolás Ferraro        

Oficina Agua Santa at present.

Vestiges of construction in Agua Santa

Oficina Agua Santa, belonging to Messrs. Campbell Outram y Cia. Productive Capacity, 180,000 Spanish quintals per month. Managed by Mr. J. D. Whitelegg, it had at the time 1,000 workers.
Photograph from Album Salitreras de Tarapacá of L. Boudat y Cia. Iquique 1889.

The Agua Santa Nitrate Plant located in the Northern Canton of Tarapacá and owned by Mrs. Francisca Hidalgo viuda de Osorio, started to process nitrate with the "Paradas" system in the decade of 1850.
In 1874 it became the property of the company Campbell Outram & Co. that reformed it to the Machine stage. Subsequently, as a result of the innovations made in Oficina San Antonio de Zapiga by the English engineer James Thomas Humberstone, he was hired to introduce his productive facilities, the Shanks system.
Towards 1878 it started to process nitrate with this new system becoming the Nitrate Plant with largest production in Tarapacá.

During the "Nitrate or Pacific War" it had a strategic role, because of its availability of machines to obtain water and the control of the wells for supply of water in the midst of the Atacama Desert.
In 1889, after the Council of the State determined the inexistence of a railway transportation trust (between nitrate Oficinas and ports of shipment) on the part of The Nitrate Railways, the owners of Agua Santa requested the Government of Chile for a concession to construct a narrow-gauge railway in order to transport nitrate from this Oficina to Caleta Buena, promising to make all the branches that were required by the nitrate oficinas that were near the Canton of Negreiros and to charge a lower tariff for transportation that that of those railways.

Bandstand in the Plaza of Oficina Agua Santa.

Oficina Agua Santa: "Irene" Theater.

In spite of the legal actions undertaken by the affected railway company, this concession was approved in March 1890, after which the company that had made the request became known as Compañía de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Agua Santa.
Esta nueva línea férrea fue inaugurada en This new railway line was inaugurated in 1892 and was used by the Nitrate Oficinas Puntunchara, Rosario de Huara, Constancia, Abra, Irene, Progreso, Josefina, Tránsito, Aurora, Amelia, Slavia, Valparaíso and Primitiva (towards 1896), among others.

Oficina Agua Santa was shut down in the year 1936.

    Apart from implementing the Shanks system in the Nitrate Industry, whose use expanded rapidly to other numerous nitrate companies, James Thomas Humberstone introduced other important technical improvements in the processing of nitrate that represented substantial reductions in the costs of exploitation and increased the yield of the raw material (caliche). Within these improvements it is important to underline the introduction of the use of oil in the boilers, the use of diesel motors for the generation of electric energy and the use of Butters Filters installed for the first time in 1914 as an annex to the principal machinery
    Another innovation applied by Humberstone was the installation of vacuum filters for the separation of the "fines" (dust with nitrate caused by the crushing of the caliche) and taking advantage of them, innovation that was generalized in several nitrate oficinas, although not all of them gave the same recovery results.

Oficina Agua Santa: Diesel motors in the Power Plant

Technical Summary
Agua Santa Nitrate Oficina

Owner: Compañía de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Agua Santa. Board of Directors with residence in Valparaíso and administered by Mr. J. B. THOMPSON.

Production: The Association of Nitrate Producers of Chile had established for this Oficina a production limited to 21,000 quintals of nitrate, its real capacity being much higher.

Port of Shipment: Caleta Buena

Electric Power: Base of 2 diesel engines of 600 HP and one 120 HP diesel engine, coupled to their respective electric generators. From this plant electricity was supplied to Oficina Irene, situated at a short distance, and to the pumps for the impulsion of water in the catchment wells.

Water Supply: There are two wells at a distance of 9.5 kilometers that supply sufficient industrial water for the requirements of this Oficina and of Oficina Irene The catchment amounts to 400 cubic meters per day.

Population: This year there were 575 workers employed, who with their families made a total population of 1,480 inhabitants.

Processing Establishment: It had 32 "cachuchos" (coil pans), 192 vats, 10 "Lancashire" boilers, 6 "Blake-Marsden" type crushers 1 belt conveyor to take the crushed caliche to the coil pans, 1 Iodine house with 4 tanks, 1 workshop with complete equipment.

Camp: There is one General Administration Building with a section for Office, Employees and Pulpería. Tennis court, 3 independent houses for Administration employees, 1 house for the doctor's residence, 1 building for hospital, 259 houses for married workmen of 2 and 3 rooms, 150 rooms for unmarried workers, 1 hotel for which the concessionaire of the Pulpería is responsible with canteen and rooms for eventual lodgers, 2 Schools (for boys and girls) 1 Theater Building, 2 Philharmonic Halls, Public Baths and football field.


Oficina Agua Santa hacia 1915.

Location: It is located 3 kilometers from the town of Negreiros, a station of the Nitrate Railways and next to the station of the same name of the Agua Santa Railway.

Transportation: To transport the caliche from the pampa it has 13 kilometers of railway lines, 2 steam engines of the "Baldwin" type of 21 tons and 80 cars for caliche.

Administrative Services and Recreation for the workers: There is a welfare Service to attend to legal problems of the workers and watch over the living conditions of the inhabitants of the camp. There is free medical service, with delivery of medicine in charge of a professional M.D. a nurse and a midwife. Workers act socially in both Philharmonics and in the sport clubs. There is a beautiful Central Plaza and twice a week motion pictures are shown in the Theater.

Pulpería: This is given in concession to Mr. Miguel Ureta and has departments of : well assorted fabrics, Grocerices in general, Meat shop, Bread Shop and Coal store. Retail trade is free, but the sale of alcoholic beverages is restricted.

Coordenadas Geográficas: 19º53’/69º54’

Source: Extracted from “Album Zona Norte de Chile”. Nitrate Information. Juvenal Valenzuela O. Santiago de Chile, 1926.

Group of workers in the first locomotive that arrived in Alto de Caleta Buena.


Eco Pampino

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