The Historic Hanalei Bridge

Island Landmark on Kauai’s North Shore Is Gateway To Hanalei

One of Kauai’s most treasured landmarks is the Hanalei Bridge and its history provides a glimpse into the island’s storied past.

Built in 1912, the Hanalei Bridge is still just a one lane bridge and thus it requires Kauai’s north shore drivers to exercise some courtesy in taking turns crossing. Many a shaka sign and wave of aloha is shared on each side of the bridge as the drivers pass by each other after crossing.

Before There Was A Hanalei Bridge

Before 1900 the road down into Hanalei Valley was more of a trail than a road. Quite steep and winding, it had three S-curves and passed by the original Hanalei Post Office and also the home called Kikiula which later would be known as the Princeville Plantation House and then Princeville Ranch House.

The road reached the bottom of the hill just upriver from the current site of the Hanalei Bridge, which hadn’t yet been built. Instead a ferry supported by the Princeville Plantation and the government brought passengers across the Hanalei River.

There were also ferry scows across the rivers at Kalihiwai and Lumahaʻi, and in 1904 wooden timber bridges were built at the Waipā, Waikoko, Wainiha, and Lumaha‘i river and stream crossings.

Some north shore residents of the day weren’t very fond of the ferry crossings. Josephine Wundenberg King, who lived at Kikiula, complained that she was pushed off the Hanalei ferry “by a kicking horse and never got over the fright. Most horses were nervous on them, and they were often leaky and tipped too much for comfort, mentally and otherwise.”

Finally in 1895 an iron-truss bridge was built over the Hanalei River, and then in 1912 the current Hanalei Bridge was constructed using steel.

Some Facts About Historic Hanalei Bridge

The New York City firm of Hamilton & Chambers prefabricated the Carnegie Steel truss pieces for the Hanalei Bridge at the request of the Territory of Hawaii. These connections were then riveted together at the bridge site.

The span of the Hanalei Bridge is 113 feet. It is known as a Pratt-truss or through-truss steel bridge and has a timber deck. The bridge has a horizontal clearance of 17 feet and a vertical clearance of 15 feet.

Over the years there have been several major repairs and reinforcements to the Hanalei Bridge, always preserving its historic character. The superstructure was strengthened in 1934 which increased the bridge’s weight limit.

A tsunami damaged the Hanalei Bridge in 1957 and it was repaired in 1959. Warren trusses were added in 1967 and extensive preservation work was done in 2002-2003.

The Hanalei Bridge is listed on both the Hawai‘i and National Register of Historic Places.

Other North Shore Bridges Also Built In 1912

In 1912 the Wai‘oli, Waipā and Waikoko bridges all collapsed under the weight of wagons carrying heavy loads of rock for road construction. “One bridge had been but fairly cleared by a loaded wagon,” the newspaper reported, “when it fell and crashed into the stream.”

The article continued, “a second bridge went down carrying a part of the wagon with it. A third bridge collapsed with no great loss.” Concrete bridges were then constructed at all three north shore crossings.