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The German Pioneer who turned the South American jungle into a cosmopolitan city

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From being an important personality in Europe from 1910 to 1914, Adolfo Julio Schwelm embarked on the dream of founding a city in South America. Calling his city Eldorado, he publicised the exotic nirvana in Europe and invited hard-working immigrants who shared his vision to come and populate his blossoming city. He even coaxed the nobility and important personalities to visit him in his colony. 

Schwelm not only sought economic growth for the city and its inhabitants but also fought for the establishment of cultural order, sponsoring schools, sports clubs, promotion societies, churches and indeed the entire infrastructure, making Eldorado one of the most promising cities of the time.

Elena Schwelm, his daughter stated ‘I love that they remember my father so well, who was an exceptional and very brave man, who left all his European comfort to come and populate new lands, and he thought more about what he had to do for others than about his own well-being. Because with all his money he could have gone to live in other places with fewer challenges and yet he took on the immense challenge of founding Eldorado and starting from scratch and brought hard-working people from Europe to accompany him in that dream of forging a city thriving, where the one who worked was going to see the fruit of his effort’.

Adolfo Julio Schwelm was born on September 29, 1882, in the city of Frankfurt, Germany. His father was director of the Goldschmidt Bank in Frankfurt. The banker’s son acquired a solid artistic culture, standing out, especially in singing and painting, disciplines taught by teachers in Italy, where his parents had sent him. Singing and painting were practised throughout his life and he made them a vocational discipline that he practised frequently.

At the Bank of Paris in France, his management of the economy and the banking techniques of the time was based on his iron will, intelligence and responsibility. From Paris, he was transferred to London to specialise in banking practices and for added clout he added English nationality.

In partnership with Luciano Leiva, son of the Argentine governor of Santa Fé in 1915, they acquired large extensions of mountains in the national territories of La Pampa, Chaco and in the province of Santiago del Estero in Argentina. Together, they cut caldenes and other species for firewood for the railways, which were beginning to spread throughout the Argentine Republic. The wood of the lapacho and especially of the quebracho, which was the most abundant tree in the Chaco and Santiago del Estero, was destined for the sleepers for the railway tracks. They were companies that the partnership developed with great success.

His friend Vicente Fidel López, son of the well-known historian, in 1918, invited him to travel along the Paraná River to Iguazú, to fish and hunt, sports that Schwelm practised. They travelled by rail to Posadas, where they rented a boat that took them on a safari through Alto Paraná. On that trip, Schwelm fell in love with Misiones and its red land.

In that same year, 1918, in partnership with Banco Tornquist and Leiva, he acquired 82,000 hectares of land, (roughly the size of Austria) located north of Piray Miní, today Colonia Victoria. At the end of 1918, he acquired in an auction, the current property of Eldorado, 9 de Julio and Santiago de Liniers, with an area of 67,500 hectares (size of Lithuania). This purchase was made through his friend José Guerrico, mayor of the city of Buenos Aires.

In 1919 he travelled to Posadas to take possession of his lands, he hired the ship Cuñataí, and on September 29, 1919 (his 37th birthday) he landed on the sands of what is now the old port of Eldorado.

He decided to call these lands Eldorado due to the stories and legends that were told in different parts of the world about the hidden riches that existed in that place, he imagined that some of them were hidden within the exuberant virgin forest of this place of Missions.

Later, he acquired a yacht where he partially lived and with which he waited on the Paraná River for the new settlers in order to receive them warmly. He also lived in Puerto Piray, the only place in Alto Paraná with some comforts and where there was a Civil Registry with the jurisdiction of Corpus to the north and the seat of the Police Station with the jurisdiction of Alto Paraná.

On September 10, 1921, in Buenos Aires, he married Elena Cruz Vivot, and then on a train specially arranged for the bride and groom, they made the trip to Posadas to spend their honeymoon in Eldorado, later they travelled to Europe. The couple made their home in Buenos Aires because Elena was from there, and four children were born.

Schwelm, in order to promote colonization and interest European farmers to establish themselves in the Colonies of Puerto Rico, Monte Carlo, Eldorado and since 1930 Colonia Victoria, set up offices in London, Paris and Berlin. He also made representations to the governments of England, France, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland for his promotion.

From 1921 to 1938, every two years he made a trip to Europe, with the aim of attracting settlers to this region, a task he carried out personally and also with printed literature in English and German.

Schwelm had the area of his house landscaped with plants from the area and other exotic ones brought from all over the world, it is what remains in our Schwelm Park today. He had a guest house built to attend to the illustrious visits he received from important European figures of the time to members of royalty. Among others, they were there visiting: Prince Louis Ferdinand Hohenzollern of Prussia, Archduke Albert of Hungary and Princess Royal Cecilia of Hohenzollern.

Dr Marisa Micolis wrote that Schwelm spent most of the year in her residence in Eldorado, to receive the settlers and organize the community. In 1924, he founded the Eldorado Company: Colonization and Exploitation of Forests Ltda. SA

He devoted three or four months a year to lecture tours in Buenos Aires, Germany, and England. And everywhere she willingly lent herself to journalists’ interviews. From 1922 to 1939, articles appeared in various newspapers and magazines recounting Schwelm’s epic achievements and extolling living conditions in the city of Eldorado. According to a journalist who knew Schwelm, Argentina was known in Europe through Eldorado.

Schwelm visited the great ones of that time: kings, princes, rulers, bankers, and businessmen, to tell them about his Eldorado and obtain from them the moral and financial help necessary for the development of the colony. Starting in 1923, he began to invite Argentine or foreign personalities who represented the highest cultural, economic or political spheres to Eldorado. In his legendary residence, he offered them a lavish welcome.

At this point, Eldorado was no longer a dream but a reality. ’We can declare it (September 1931) ‘what we had dreamed of is today close to being fulfilled.’

According to the historical material gathered by Frances Lowe, a member of the Eldorado Historical Studies Board, when Schwelm was asked why he had come to found a Colony in Misiones, instead of developing a much more profitable banking activity in a big city, he replied that he knew the intimate thoughts of European farmers, all tenants, none of them owners, of the plot they cultivated and the desire they had to possess their own land because with it, symbolically, they would also obtain their freedom.

And that is what he offered them in his publications, he talked about agriculture, trees, fish, healthy living, nature, fruitful land, water and the outdoors. He never mentioned wages or hours of daily work He did not promise benefits or fortunes, but mentioned the fundamental basis of life ‘the freedom of man’ and highlighted the possibility of becoming owners of the land.

Schwelm did not lose faith despite the difficult challenges. He loved the red land of Misiones, and his confidence was founded on work, effort and four life pillars: ‘water, fire, wood and the abundance of food ‘.

For the progress of Eldorado and for the service of the settlers and inhabitants, Schwelm was always courteous: he donated land for the radio station, he paid for the transfer of the sick to Posadas, he donated much for the schools, and he always collaborated in everything concerning to the physical, intellectual and spiritual health of his beloved Eldorado.

Adolfo Julio Schwelm’s mortality passed away on November 23, 1948. His remains rest on top of a hill facing the Paraná, on the way to Puerto Pinares, a place blessed by Monsignor Rademacher. Source 1, Source 2


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