In a city noted for its world renown historical restoration and preservation, Casa Popenoe, home for wealthy Antigua citizens for centuries, stands out as a monumental achievement, accomplished by a family whose love of this beautiful colonial mansion is singlehandly responsible for its restored glory.
During the many years my wife Mary and I have been visiting Antigua, the legendary house wasn't open to the public. But today limited tours are conducted by its curator and historian Dr. Alberto Girón and his staff.
His research has revealed that in 1560, a house was built on the land where Casa Popenoe stands today. The present house, which has been extensively remodeled over the years, was constructed in 1650.
Dr. Girón does a remarkable job of avoiding the feel of a museum walk; instead, he creates the ambiance of what it would have been like to have lived in this Colonial life style. You sense the history that has occurred here as you stroll through its spacious rooms with authentic furnishings, beautiful courtyard with a fountain, kitchen garden, stables and service courtyards.
The house was in ruins when Dr. Wilson Popenoe and his wife Dorothy purchased it in 1930 <http://huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu/HIBD/Exhibitions/BotanistsArt/Popenoe.shtml>. They were able to visualize what an architectural jewel it could become again despite its dilapidated condition. The couple spent six years authentically restoring the house to its previous grandeur. Years after Dorothy's death, Dr. Popenoe married Helen, an art historian who acquired many of the home's artifacts now on display.
In 2007, Dr. Marion Popenoe Hatch, an acclaimed international archeologist, as was her mother Dorothy, and her siblings donated the house to Universidad Francisco Marroquín for use as a museum and teaching resource <http://casapopenoe.ufm.edu/>.
Our tour of Casa Popenoe was like a second pilgrimage to the site of an important place Dr. Wilson Popenoe left his mark on. A botanist, agronomist and agricultural explorer, Dr. Popenoe established Lancetilla Botanical Garden and Research Center in Honduras, in 1925 <http://johnsmitchell.blogspot.com/2010/11/lancetilla-botanical-garden-honduras.html>.
As a Senior Master Gardener I was in awe of this remarkable horticultural resource during a year-long trip through all of Central and South America several decades ago. Visiting these two important Popenoe endeavors enhanced my appreciation for his dedication and accomplishments and his remarkable family.
Louis Adamic (1899-1951) describes the essence of Casa Popenoe in hisbook, "The House in Antigua" (1937):
"Casa Popenoe appeals to the inquiring mind. It prompts us to ask questions about ideas, about passion, about commitment, about history, art, science, beauty, austerity, proportion."
Casa Popenoe can only be seen by guided tour; at present, limited to groups of five or more, arranged in advance.
Tour Hours: Monday — Friday 8 am – 4 pm; Saturdays 8 am - 11 am.
To schedule a tour, please send an email to email@example.com or call [+502] 2338-7959.
Admission is USD 10 or 80 quetzales per person ($5 or Q40 per University student).
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