André Conrado - O vale encantado de Vassouras – Rj – Parte 1

Nesta série de matéria convido ao leitor a mais uma bela viagem no tempo.

Desta vez, nossa expedição chega em terras coroadas, que trouxeram ao nosso país muitas histórias que valem a pena ser contadas…

Destacada por muito tempo como núcleo da aristocracia rural fluminense, a cidade era cercada por grandes propriedades agrícolas, famosas pelo volume da produção cafeeira, obtida com o trabalho dos escravos. A falta de braços para a lavoura de café, decorrente da abolição da escravatura, em 1888, ocasionou o abandono das terras. O café sustentava o progresso da cidade, mas sua cultura abandonada e, em seu lugar, surgiram as pequenas lavouras, principalmente de hortaliças e cereais, a pecuária e a indústria.

Os primeiros colonizadores que chegaram ao território do atual município de Vassouras, na região dos rios Paraibuna e Paraíba, integravam a expedição de Garcia Rodrigues Paes Leme, que abriu o Caminho Novo das Minas e fixou residência na margem esquerda do rio Paraíba.  Daí em diante, ele e seus sucessores, entre os quais o sargento-mor Bernardo Soares Proença, prosseguiram na construção do caminho que ligaria Minas à cidade do Rio de Janeiro, entre 1700 e 1725.

O povoado foi fundado em 1782, quando o açoriano Francisco Rodrigues Alves e seu sócio receberam uma sesmaria repleta de arbustos que seriam empregados na confecção de vassouras. Localizada no Vale do Paraíba, era uma região privilegiada, cortada pelos caminhos de ligação entre Minas Gerais e o porto do Rio de Janeiro que, no período econômico do ouro, serviam ao escoamento do produto para o império português. Em virtude disto, a cidade recebeu um decreto Real de proteção.

O povoamento se intensificou em 1812, quando, para impedir a invasão de contrabandistas, o príncipe regente D. João VI ordenou a construção da Estrada do Comércio, que levava a Minas e Goiás. No início do século XIX, a região progrediu ainda mais, com o cultivo de cana-de-açúcar e, posteriormente, de café, levando a Província do Rio de Janeiro a ser o primeiro grande exportador do produto, no Brasil.

Vassouras testemunha a economia cafeicultora do século XIX, que floresceu ao longo das estradas que desbravaram o Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Em 1828, foi erguida a Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição à margem da Estrada da Polícia que se dirigia à Valença e Minas Gerais.  Foi elevada à categoria de vila, em 1833, e à cidade em 1857. Na década de 1850, viveu um período de intensa vida social. Surgiram casarios, palacetes, hotéis e colégios que guardam a memória dessa fase próspera, quando ganhou a alcunha de “Cidade dos Barões”.

Com o crescimento econômico pelas plantações de café, a vila de Vassouras desenvolve-se e é elevada à categoria de cidade a 29 de setembro de 1857. Possui já nesta época aproximadamente três mil moradores em sua área urbana.

Durante a década de 1850, a cidade, em seu apogeu, ostenta o título de “maior produtora de café do mundo”, reconhecida como a “Princesinha do café”. Entre 1856 e 1859, a província do Rio de Janeiro produz 63.804.764 arrobas de café, enquanto as províncias de São Paulo e Minas Gerais, juntas, produzem apenas um quarto deste total.

Constroem-se casarios, palacetes, hotéis (sempre repletos), joalherias, o teatro, etc., plenos de vida social intensa. Antes rústicos, os cafeicultores educam-se e socializam-se; suas fazendas são ora reformadas, ora ampliadas para atenderem às novas necessidades e para receberem hóspedes ilustres da Corte e a família imperial.

A cidade de Vassouras tornou-se neste período a maior cidade com fazendeiros nobilitados, ficou conhecida como “Cidade dos Barões”: ali viviam 25 barões, 7 viscondes, 1 viscondessa, 1 condessa, 2 marqueses, considerados titulares vassourenses, entre outros.

A superexploração e o mau uso do solo levaram ao seu enfraquecimento, pelo que a produção de café declina em toda a região. Entre 1879 a 1884 a província do Rio de Janeiro ainda contribui com quase 56% do total exportado pelo Brasil; porém, em 1894 a produção despenca para apenas 20% do total. Ainda sustentam o apogeu da cidade (até a segunda metade da década) os crescentes preços do café no início da década de 1890. Com a queda, porém, da cotação internacional, perdem-se muitas fazendas hipotecadas para o Banco do Brasil, entre elas propriedades de uma mesma família por várias gerações. Seguem para a capital e outros lugares, em busca da fortuna e do status perdidos. Os ficados que conservaram as fazendas abandonam a agricultura e dedicam-se à pecuária leiteira.

Nas fachadas de seus casarios, palacetes e monumentos, Vassouras guarda as lembranças desse próspero período que não será esquecido. O seu conjunto histórico urbanístico e paisagístico foi protegido em 1958 por um processo de tombamento e hoje o turismo é uma das principais fontes de renda da bela cidade.

Na próxima edição, convido a todos a visitarmos algumas das belíssimas fazendas históricas da região. Não percam!

Fontes:
Arquivo Nacional
Biblioteca Nacional Digital
IBGE
IPHAN

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