In June, 1925, Governor Wallace Farrington and the County Board of Supervisors Chairman Samuel Kalama led a grand procession of cars on the official opening of the road from Kailua to Hana.
The road was called the Belt Road and would link the isolated communities of East Maui with the rest of the island. By December, 1926, the governor and the board chairman were able to drive all the way to Hana on the dream road that was fast becoming a reality.
Wait … Let’s step back a bit.
Handy, Handy & Pukui report that in ancient times there were several major population centers on the Island of Maui: Kahakuloa (West Maui) region; the deep watered valleys of Nā Wai ‘Ehā (Waiheʻe, Wai‘ehu, Wailuku and Waikapū;) the ‘Olowalu to Honokōhau region of Lāhainā; the Kula – ʻUlupalakua region and the Koʻolau – Hāna region.
They note the importance of the Koʻolau region in this discussion: “On the northeast flank of the great volcanic dome of Haleakala…the two adjacent areas of Keʻanae and Wailua-nui comprise the fourth of the main Maui centers and the chief center on this rugged eastern coast”
“It supported intensive and extensive wet-taro cultivation. Further eastward and southward along this windward coast line is the district of Hāna…” (Maly)
Settlement in the watered valleys along the Koʻolau coast consisted primarily of permanent residences near the shore and spread along the valley floors. Residences also extended inland on flat lands and plateaus, with temporary shelters in the upper valleys.
Handy, Handy and Pukui further note that “…Ke‘anae lies just beyond Honomanu Valley. This is a unique wet-taro growing ahupua‘a… It was here that the early inhabitants settled, planting upland rain-watered taro far up into the forested area.”
“In the lower part of the valley, which is covered mostly by grass now, an area of irrigated taro was developed on the east side. A much larger area in the remainder of the valley could have been so developed.”
“However, we could find no evidence of terracing there. This probably was due to the fact that the energies of the people were diverted to create the lo‘i complex which now covers the peninsula.” (Maly)
In modern times, when Hāna was without a road, and the coastal steamer arrived on a weekly schedule, Hana-bound travelers unwilling to wait for the boat drove their car to the road’s end at Kailua, rode horseback to Kaumahina ridge, then walked down the switchback into Honomanu Valley. (Wenkam, NPS)
Friends carried them on flatbed taro trucks across the Keʻanae peninsula to Wailua cove. It was a short ride by outrigger canoe beyond Wailua to Nāhiku landing where they could borrow a car for the rest of the involved trip to Hana. Sometimes the itinerary could be completed in a day. Bad weather could make it last a week. (Wenkam, NPS)
It was not until 1847, that the historic and modified trail and road alignments became a part of a system of “roads” called the “Alanui Aupuni” or Government Roads. Work on the roads was funded in part by government appropriations, and through the labor or financial contributions of area residents, or prisoners working off penalties. (Maly)
The law (Sec 1536DD. Warden, Deputy, Duties, Powers) allowed a warden to have “the immediate charge and direction of all Territorial prisons and prison camps and the administration thereof.”
“The warden shall be responsible for the safekeeping of all prisoners and persons who may be committed to said prisons and for the enforcement of proper order and discipline among and concerning prisoners and prison officers and employees.” (Attorney General)
Neighbor Island prison camps were set up, there were 4: Maui had three, the other was on the Big Island (outside Hilo.) Keʻanae camp had 22-prisoners and 3-guards; Olinda camp had 31-prisoners, with Jailer and 3-guards and Paukakulo camp had 27-prisoners, with 1-jailer and 3-guards. The three camps on Maui are engaged in road work and forest lines.
A large part of the road to Hāna was constructed by prison labor based at the Keʻanae Prison Camp. The camp was built in 1926 to house the prisoners who would construct the road, including several bridges from Kailua to Hana.
When the road was completed in 1927, men from Keʻanae to Hāna town were hired to maintain the road, especially during the rainy season. (McGregor)
Later, an announcement in the Maui News (January 20, 1934) carried the headline, “Conservation Program Will Be Launched Within Week or 10 Days.” Sub-headlines were “$421,000 Is Provided” and “…To be Located at Keʻanae’s Old Prison Site.”
No longer needed, the Keʻanae prison camp was converted into quarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps. This federal program, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide jobs to get the US through the depression, brought in men from other parts of Maui and other islands to plant thousands of eucalyptus and other introduced trees throughout the Hana coast. (McGregor)
In December 1942, during World War II, Governor Ingram Stainback tried to assist the war effort by sending forty inmates from Oʻahu Prison to the former Keʻanae Prison camp to revive the old Nāhiku rubber plantations in the hope of yielding 20,000 to 50,000-pounds of crude rubber annually. The venture was no more successful than the earlier ones had been.
Eventually, the YMCA operated the facilities as Camp Keanae; part of the land area continues to be used as a roadway base yard. Na Moku Aupuni O Ko‘olau Hui are now the stewards of Camp Keanae.