Once a flourishing community existed in the heart of Kapaia Valley on Kauai.
In the 1920s, most of the plantation villagers traveled by foot because they could not afford to own an automobile. A foot bridge was used daily to go to and from work, school, shopping and recreation.
The Kapaia Swinging Bridge crosses the Kapaia Stream, whose source is the Kapaia Reservoir and outlet is Hanama‘ulu Bay.
Kapaia Camp was one of many camps established by Līhu‘e Plantation. Workers from Kapaia irrigated and maintained the sugar cane fields at Hanama‘ulu.
Because the Kapaia terrain made it unsuitable for sugar cultivation, Līhu‘e Plantation allowed the area to be used for shops, churches and other agricultural activities. Lands were leased, and later sold to farmers and businessmen.
The interspersion of private landowners, business enterprises and the plantation camp gave the community of Kapaia a truly unique, multicultural character.
Chinese and Japanese shops with names like Ah Chock, Naganuma, Ogata and Ihara established themselves to serve the people of the area. Portuguese merchants such as Fernandes and Carvalho opened general merchandising stores.
Built first as a low foot crossing, it bridged upper Kapaia to the lower valley. Often, heavy rains swept through the stream, washing away the low foot bridge, creating a huge inconvenience for the villagers.
Finally, in 1948, a suspension bridge was constructed by the County of Kauai.
Much of the plantation housing was located on the “Upper Kapaia” (Kapaia Road) side of the bridge. The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church occupied the east side of the Kapaia Stream. Rice fields, a Filipino camp, taro patches, Hawaiian and Japanese families lived on the inner valley side.
On the west side of the bridge stood the Līhu‘e Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Korean Methodist Church and Chinese Church. Naganuma Store, Ogata Store, Moriwake and Ah Chock’s store lined the road leading up to the main Kūhiō Highway.
The pathway across the Kapaia Foot Bridge was much shorter and more convenient than climbing up Kapaia Road, onto Kuhio Highway, then trekking down the highway to the shops and churches.
Most of the traversing was done by people walking from their camp homes, across the bridge, to all of the activity on the “Lower Valley” side of Kapaia Stream.
Japanese children from Hanama‘ulu and upper Kapaia Valley crossed daily to attend Japanese School. Plantation laborers from the “Middle and Lower Valley” met across the bridge at 5 am daily to walk together to Hanama‘ulu, where they were trucked to the sugar fields.
Housewives walked back and forth the bridge to do their daily grocery shopping and to visit friends. These are just a few examples demonstrating the integral role of the Kapaia Foot Bridge, evolving to become the Kapaia Swinging Bridge in 1948, in the daily life of Kauai’s sugar plantation immigrant population.
With the emergence of automobiles as a major form of transportation, and with the closing of sugar plantations, the swinging bridge became less important as a mode of transportation.
In the 1950s and early-60s, Līhu‘e Plantation began phasing out camp housing, offering private ownership to their employees in Hanama’ulu, Lihue and elsewhere.
By 2000, when Līhu‘e Plantation closed, all of the plantation housing had disappeared and all of the private farms and businesses were gone. Only remnants of a once flourishing plantation community still exist.
In September, 2006, the Kapaia Swinging Bridge was declared unsafe for use and was closed. Concerned citizens have been working with governmental entities to restore and maintain the bridge. (NPS)
The Kapaia Swinging Bridge is a suspension bridge. It is one of four known similarly constructed pedestrian suspension bridges in Hawaii. All are located on Kauai – Hanapepe, Waimea and Kapa‘a.
The wooden deck is suspended from hangers attached to steel cables draped over 2 wooden towers and secured into solid concrete/boulder anchorages at both ends. The cable span between the two 15’ 10” tall towers of the Kapaia Swinging Bridge is 80’. The entire bridge is 125’ long.
Hanapepe Swinging Bridge was built in 1911; it was later extensively rebuilt after Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The 3-foot wide Hanapepe bridge has a span of 172.0 feet
Waimea’s pedestrian suspension bridge is at the ‘Menehune Ditch;’ this 3-foot wide bridge was built in the early 1900s and was damaged and rebuilt following Hurrican Iniki in 1992. Kapa‘a’s bridge is 125-feet in length.
Kauai is not the only Island with pedestrian-only bridges; of note, Maui has a couple, an older bridge in Waihe‘e and a new one in Kapalua. (Lots of information here is from Historic Register, Save Kapaia Swinging Bridge, Bridgemeister and BridgeHunter.)