Jun 132024
New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend owned Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in the 1890s

In the mid-1890s, New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend, born in 1832, and her husband, Gideon, became, almost certainly, the first American couple to own property in the town of Chapala—and they didn’t even have to pay for it, because it was a gift from their eldest daughter, Cora. Mary Ashley and Gideon lived in […]

Jun 062024
Dating early photos of Chapala stagecoaches (diligencias)

Before the advent of trains and motor vehicles, the only way to get to Lake Chapala was to walk, ride or take a stagecoach (diligencia). The first regular Guadalajara–Chapala stagecoach service began in 1866. While the trip could be done in ten hours, it usually took twelve or more, and the mix of excitement, speed, […]

May 302024
Ajijic's Cerro del Aguila: the story of the Ajijic Eagle

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, a photo I took of Ajijic in 1980 (below) shows, almost precisely in the middle, the bare hillside known as Cerro del Aguila (“Hill of the Eagle”) or Cerro Colorado (“Colored Hill”). According to a local legend, the hillside was formed during the centuries-long migration of the […]

May 232024
Canadian artist Leonard Brooks, one of many links between San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala

Canadian artist Frank Leonard Brooks (1911-2011), usually known simply as Leonard Brooks, was a painter and textile artist who made his home in San Miguel de Allende for more than fifty years. He and his wife, Reva, a photographer, occasionally visited Chapala, but never for any extended period of time. It was something of a […]

May 162024
Artists and authors who searched for idols at Lake Chapala

Many artists and authors have visited Lake Chapala in search of, or in homage to, their literary or artistic idols. But what about those who have also spent time collecting ancient stone and pottery idols and artifacts? There are far more members of this latter group than I first thought. The first academic report of […]

Apr 252024
1980: My first glimpses of Lake Chapala

Unlike most of my writing, this is a very personal post. It was 1980—and I was in my mid-twenties—when I first saw Lake Chapala. I was only there a few hours, took a few photos, and was not overly impressed. It was to be several years before I revisited. What I hadn’t realized, until quite […]

Apr 182024
Álvaro Ochoa Serrano's history of "La Ciénega de Chapala"

When not writing about mariachi, historian Dr Álvaro Ochoa Serrano has dedicated much of his life to writing about Lake Chapala. His latest book, titled La Ciénega de Chapala, published in 2023, is an extraordinarily well-researched account of the history of the eastern end of Lake Chapala, told through four detailed and elegantly written case […]

Apr 112024
Lake Chapala on a postcard: Juan Aráuz Lomeli

Juan Aráuz Lomeli (ca 1887-1970) is known to have taken photos of Chapala from the 1920s onward. The somewhat unusual surname Aráuz or Arauz—the accent is optional—is of Basque origin. Though not a full-time professional photographer, Juan Aráuz Lomeli stamped “ARAUZ – FOT.” and an address in Guadalajara on the reverse of the photos he […]

Apr 042024
1940 book celebrated ‘modern’ highway along south shore of Lake Chapala

In the late 1930s the government of President Lázaro Cardenas financed the completion of a paved highway from Mexico City to Guadalajara via Toluca, Morelia and Jiquilpan (Cardenas’s birthplace). To commemorate the first part, Mexico City to Morelia, author and art historian Pedro Ceuleneer de Gante was commissioned to write a short guidebook illustrated by […]

Mar 282024
Lake Chapala postcards: a photograph by Juan Victor Aráuz

Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (1914-2000) and his father, Juan Aráuz Lomeli, were photographers who lived and worked in Guadalajara. Because they sometimes photographed the same subject at the same time, there is uncertainty in the case of some images as to which of the two men was the photographer. Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (sometimes mistakenly […]

Mar 212024
Can a copy have as much merit as an original painting?

One curiosity in the permanent collection of Guadalajara’s Instituto Cultural Cabañas is this pretty painting by Ignacio Ramírez titled “Vista de Chapala.” The painting is dated 1986, even though the view it depicts is clearly from many decades earlier, as evidenced, for example, by the absence of Casa Braniff (completed in 1905) and of several […]

Mar 142024
Writer, poet and movie producer Hans Oppenheimer lived in Ajijic in the 1960s

While trawling through the archives of the Guadalajara Reporter many years ago, I stumbled across a one-line reference to the German-born film producer Hans Oppenheimer. Anita Lomax, the weekly newspaper’s Ajijic correspondent, commented in 1964 that “Hans Oppenheimer, writer and poet” had just left Ajijic for a visit to Mexico City. Earlier that year, Oppenheimer’s […]

Mar 072024
Lake Chapala on a postcard:  S. Altamirano of Guadalajara

A striking series of color-tinted postcards was published by S. Altamirano in the mid-1920s. The application of color on these cards was far more sophisticated than that used earlier by (among others) Alba y Fernández. The reverse side of these cards carries the imprint, “Editor S. Altamirano, Av. Colon 165, Guadalajara.” The front of the […]

Feb 292024
Edwin Hall Warner, an engineer who wrote short stories

Some years ago, I stumbled across an early, unattributed short story which mentioned Lake Chapala and made several references to the town of La Barca, and to José Velarde (“The Golden Ass”). The story, titled “The Sorceress” and published in 1894, was about the impacts of superstition, religion and sacrifice. Recently, while researching a short […]

Feb 272024

“The Sorceress: How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.” by Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. The calzada principal in La Barca runs a meandering course easterly through the town to the garita. The houses on each side are of the usual Mexican type, the more pretentious of stone, others of adobe, with barred […]

Feb 222024
Art Mystery: Solved! This really is a church in Chapala!

Two young US artists—Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser—who had first met at art school in Chicago, arrived in Chapala in 1923. Apart from short trips elsewhere they spent the next three and a half years at Lake Chapala—living first in Chapala, then in Ajijic, and then returning once again to Chapala—before continuing their highly […]

Feb 212024
Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott (1863–1942)

Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott was born in Galesburg, Michigan, on 15 July 1863 and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 January 1942. Scott spent six months in Mexico in 1888, and then lived in the country, with occasional breaks in California, from 1895 to 1924. From 1890 to 1894, he was working in […]

Feb 152024
What was Chapala like in 1925?

In a departure from our normal style, this post looks at a 1925 editorial in the long-running Guadalajara daily El Informador titled “La Villa Veraniega de Chapala” (The Summer Resort of Chapala). Quotes used throughout this post are informal translations of the original Spanish. The most likely candidate for the editorial’s authorship is the newspaper’s […]

Feb 082024
Lake Chapala on a postcard: La Joyita and Ocotlán Station

Several popular curio shops in downtown Mexico City at the start of the twentieth century stocked all manner of wares to sell to tourists and travelers, and some even published their own postcards of Mexico. An 1898 list in The Mexican Herald of stores selling “Opals and Mexican Curiosities” included Granat & Horwitz (in the […]

Feb 012024
After living in Ajijic, Bart McDowell became a senior editor of National Geographic

Author Bart McDowell (1923-2009), who later became a senior editor of National Geographic magazine, first visited Ajijic in 1952. Born in Texas on 10 September 1923, Hobart (‘Bart’) K. McDowell Jr. graduated with a degree in political science from the University of California before completing a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri. […]

Feb 012024
José de Olivares and his account of a perilous boat trip on Lake Chapala in 1901

In 1901, José de Olivares—author, poet and US diplomat—wrote a newspaper column about his adventures when visiting Lake Chapala. The column has several geographical inconsistencies which suggest that the author may have slightly embellished his real life experiences for dramatic effect. And an unfortunate editing typo resulted in the title of the piece being printed […]

Jan 262024
“Andrade”: a mystery photographer of Lake Chapala in the 1930s

Every now and again my research into the photographers who captured images of Lake Chapala used on vintage postcards draws a near-complete blank. This post considers two striking images taken by “Andrade.” The only reference I have so far found to Andrade comes in the unpublished journal (now in the archives of the California Historical […]

Jan 252024
Sculptor Lesley Jervis (aka Lesley Maddock, Lesley Sherratt) lived in Jocotepec 1968-1970

Sculptor Lesley I. Jervis (born Oct 1943, in Stoke-on-Trent, UK) and her then husband Bruce Robert Sherratt, an artist and art educator, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA. Jervis and […]

Jan 182024
Fashion columnist Mary Hampton first visited Chapala in 1949

Of the many journalists who have reported on Lake Chapala over the years, one of those with the most distinctive individual viewpoint was Mary Hampton, a long-time fashion editor based in California. Born on 14 September 1899 in Nogales, Arizona (at a time when there was no border wall separating the town from Nogales, Sonora), […]

Jan 042024
Snakes alive! Mrs Fannie Ward picnics at Lake Chapala in 1887

Newspaper correspondent and intrepid traveler Fanny H. Ward (née Brigham) was born in Monroe, Michigan, on 27 January 1843 and died in Kent, Ohio, on 4 October 1913. Little is known about her early education and upbringing. She married in 1862 and moved to Washington DC about a decade later. The couple had three children, […]

Dec 282023
Lake Chapala on a postcard: Antonio Mólgora (father and son)

Antonio Mólgora was an Italian businessman and hotelier who ran various hotels in Chapala from about 1907 to his death in 1927. Both he and one of his sons, also named Antonio, were accomplished amateur photographers and published a number of postcards, the son generally preferring pictures of boats and people to pictures of buildings. […]

Dec 212023
Norwegian anthropologist Carl Lumholtz found votive offerings at Lake Chapala in 1902

Carl Sophus Lumholtz (1851–1922), born in Lillehammer, Norway, was a scientist, traveler and anthropologist in the generalist Humboldtian tradition. After graduating from the Theology department of the University of Christianía in Oslo, Lumholtz went to Australia as a naturalist. While living with cannibalistic aborigines in northern Queensland, he became fascinated by the study of primitive […]