Channel dredging still a mystery
IT'S hard to believe the creation of a geographical feature as large and important as the ocean entrance to the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor is so hard to document accurately.
As Water Ways readers will recall, I was shamelessly pleading for help in last week's column for information that would nail down a reasonably accurate date of that channel's construction.
To their credit, there were several folks who called or e-mailed me with their remembrances of those early years. However, without fail, each became a bit foggy when it came to recalling the actual year the project was completed.
One reader clearly remembered when he had to sail in and out of the Ala Wai harbor via a channel through Kewalo Basin to the open ocean.
"It was a long, hard job tacking back and forth (into the wind) coming up by Ala Moana Park to return to the club," he said. "But I'm no good at dates on when the channel was cut through the reef (for the Ala Wai Harbor)."
Another reader wrote that she has a map on her wall dated 1907 showing a proposed canal for Waikiki that includes the present channel to the sea as well as the canal exiting to the ocean at the other end through Kapiolani Park.
"Something I hadn't noticed until now is that the map has the words 'Territorial Board of Health' on it," she said. "Perhaps the answers you need are hidden in an agency where you would not think to look."
Coincidentally, I have a similar map, although it's dated 1912, but a book by historian H. Brett Melendy about the early Hawaii entrepreneur Walter F. Dillingham explains why the Board of Health had had an interest in the project.
In 1904, Lucius E. Pinkham (who became Hawaii's Territorial Governor in 1913) was named the president of the new Territory's Board of Health.
One of Pinkham's legacies was his introduction of a plan to drain and fill the "unsanitary" mosquito-filled marshes of Waikiki by constructing what is now known as the Ala Wai Canal.
When a single case of yellow fever was reported in the area in 1911 it proved to be the catalyst needed to create a special "sanitary commission" conveniently headed by Dillingham, the head of the Hawaiian Dredging Co.
The Territorial Legislature finally approved the creation of a drainage canal in 1920 (by then Dillingham had purchased more than 400 hundred surrounding acres) and the Hawaiian Dredging Co. got two contracts for work to begin the following year.
One contract was "to open a 500-foot channel through the reef to the beach at Ala Moana," according to Melendy, and the other was to cut a canal inland for 2 miles.
But, if the Ala Wai Harbor's entrance was dredged around 1921, then why are there so many sailors around today who swear they had to enter and exit via the Kewalo Basin some two decades later?
It's apparent I'm not done with this story just yet.