Between the years 1608 and 1610, a small wooden fort named Fort San Juan de la Cruz (or more oftenly called “El Cañuelo,” which is Spanish for “small channel”) was built on a small key at the entrance to the bay of San Juan opposite Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Its construction served two purposes. It protected the mouth of the Bayamón River which was heavily used for transportation to the interior of the island and it also was an ideal place to support the cannons of Castillo San Felipe del Moro on the other side of the bay. Enemy ships attempting to enter the bay and avoid the guns of El Morro would be pushed by wind and tides into the shallow waters surrounding the small fort and run aground. They would then be easy prey for the cannons of El Cañuelo.
Originally, El Cañuelo was completely surrounded by water. The only way to get there was by boat. The 50-foot-square fort was provided with a sleeping area, a kitchen and a cistern, but little else. Far from their comrades at El Morro and with little opportunity for recreation, it must have been very lonely duty for the handful of soldiers stationed there! Indeed, likely a posting to El Cañuelo would have been the result of disciplinary action for some type of infraction.
The fort was burned during the Dutch attack of 1625 and it was rebuilt with masonry but, by the early 1800’s, El Cañuelo had become obsolete. Once the powerful batteries of El Morro were finished, the 24 and 32 pound artillery at El Morro were able to reach and even pass over El Cañuelo, making the small fort unnecessary.
In the early 1800’s, infectious diseases like leprosy and cholera were affecting the population of San Juan. The isolated location of El Cañuelo made it an ideal place to quarantine sick residents and new-arrivals. The fort was modified by adding sleeping quarters and a kitchen in order to accommodate patients but there is no documentary evidence that it was ever used for this purpose.
In 1943, the US Corps of Engineers dredged the entrance of the San Juan bay to allow large war ships and submarines access to the port. The material that was removed from the bottom was used to fill and connect El Cañuelo with another small island nearby (Isla de Cabras or Goat Island) creating an artificial peninsula. Visitors are now able to drive to El Cañuelo and enjoy the views of El Morro across the bay.
Last updated: January 8, 2017