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Wailuku Bridge

Robert C. Schmitt, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

The earliest recorded bridge in Hawai‘i was a crude footbridge across the Wailuku River in Hilo and was reported by missionary C. S. Stewart in 1825. The first major bridge on O‘ahu appears to have been one extending North Beretania Street across Nu‘uanu Stream, erected at a cost of $1,200 in 1840. This span was swept away by a sudden flooding of the stream in April, 1847. Reconstruction had barely gotten underway when, five weeks later, another freshet hit the area. According to witnesses, the replacement span "was seen floating out of the harbor at the rate of about four knots."

Hilo’s dangerous Wailuku River was finally spanned again in September 1859, this time by a 196-foot-long suspension bridge. Less than seven weeks after it was opened, this bridge collapsed while a party of eight or ten persons and their horses were attempting to cross. The group narrowly averted drowning and death by falling timbers.

This was not the first disaster or near-disaster at the site of the Wailuku Bridge. Weakened by earthquakes and a tsunami, the railroad bridge over the Wailuku River collapsed on March 31, 1923 -- immediately after a loaded passenger train had crossed and another was approaching. Two of the largest bridges on the Hawai‘i Consolidated Railway were destroyed by the 1946 tsunami, a disaster which effectively put that railroad out of business.