Saturday, July 2, 2022

Eusebius Halsema: The American Who Built Halsema Highway and Transformed Baguio City

Eusebius Julius Halsema was an American civil engineer and politician who served as mayor of Baguio City from 1920 to 1937. Halsema first arrived in the Philippines in 1908 and worked as an engineer for the Philippine Government's Bureau of Public Works. In his first 11 years in the country, Halsema was assigned in Cebu, then Pampanga, then Manila, then Zamboanga. 

In 1920, he was sent to Baguio City. For 17 years, he served as mayor and city engineer of Baguio City as well as district engineer for the province of Benguet. It was during his watch that the Halsema Highway was first carved out of the steep mountain slopes of Benguet and Mt. Province. Construction commenced in 1922. Back then, it was referred to as the Mountain Trail because it started out as a foot trail. It was only during the succeeding years that it was slowly transformed into a road fit for automobiles.

Halsema Highway is without a doubt the most important highway in the Cordillera region. Stretching for 150 kilometers from Baguio City to Bontoc, Mt. Province, the highway is an indispensable economic artery in the region. Without it, the economies of the provinces of Benguet, Mt. Province, Kalinga, and Apayao will find it very difficult to move forward. Halsema Highway is the line that connects the provinces together. Farmers use it to transport their highland vegetables. Goods and services to the northern provinces are transported through it. In other words, it's the main street of the region's economy.

Halsema left his government post in 1937 but still decided to live and retire in Baguio City. He died in Baguio City on March 15, 1945. Around this time, the city was under the control of the Imperial Japanese Army. Also during this time, the city was being besieged and bombed by Allied forces trying to liberate the city from the Japanese forces. Halsema was buried at the Baguio Cemetery. His remains to this day are at the cemetery marked by a simple white tombstone.

Quick Facts About Eusebius Halsema

1. He was born on March 12, 1882 in the village of New Bremen on the plains of western Ohio in the United States.
2. His father (a watchmaker and jeweler) and his mother were migrants from the Netherlands.
3. He studied at the Ohio State University and graduated in 1907 with a degree in civil engineering.
4. He died in Baguio City in March of 1945 while the city was under the control of the Imperial Japanese Army.
5. He was the 5th and last American mayor of Baguio City.