- Hawai‘i’s Scenic Roads: Paving the Way for Tourism in the Islands by Dawn E. Duensing
Dawn Duensing has gathered an impressive amount of archival material to produce an informative discussion of the forces that led to the development of scenic roads in Hawai‘i. Spanning the early missionary era to the eve of World War II, this book explores efforts of the white elite to improve transportation in the islands. In her coverage of the nineteenth century, the author stresses the ways in which early white elites, missionaries and plantation owners alike, perceived in roads an important instrument in civilizing the inhabitants of the islands, which amounted to transforming Native Hawaiians into market producers of agricultural surplus. Yet she also notes that with time, the urge to push for growing economic development was joined to what might be its opposite, the desire to build roads that would show off Hawai‘i’s spectacular scenery. Thus, by the turn-of-the-century, efforts by leading businessmen to improve belt roads and scenic highways amounted to an embrace of the tourist economy of the future.
But that would require funding. The author provides a careful discussion of the search for better sources of money, noting that the existing tax systems, which allowed for individuals to provide a few days of labor a year in lieu of a cash payment, limited the amount of revenue that could be used to transform foot and bridle paths into roads capable of carrying carriages and, eventually, automobiles. Duensing argues that the search for road funding was critically important to the effort to get Congress to pass the Hawaii Bill of Rights in 1924, granting the territory greater equality with the states, putting it on the same legal basis as earlier territories of the western United States had experienced, instead of being treated like a possession like the Philippines. The lobbying of Congress by the same cohort that had a generation earlier supported annexation is shown to have been done with road building and tourism in mind, and the new sources of federal funding, provided particularly by the National Park Service, but also by New Deal relief agencies, allowed for the building of a series of scenic highways.
The book then makes its greatest contribution, turning to four examples [End Page 172] of road building: the Nu‘uanu Pali Road connecting Honolulu with windward O‘ahu, the Hāna road that opened up (and ironically helped maintain) the traditional ecology and communities of windward Maui, the roads to the volcanic craters on Hawai‘i Island, and the Haleakalā crater road. Local engineers organized the building of the Pali Road on O‘ahu and the Hāna road on Maui by bringing to bear the techniques and designs then being deployed elsewhere in the United States. This deployment of outside expertise was magnified after Congress passed the Hawaii Bill of Rights and the National Parks Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Public Roads entered the fray. Here the links between local boosters and the federal bureaucracy are well developed, and the author finds much to praise in the efforts of the federal agencies in building roads that compare favorably with those built on the mainland in the western national parks. She points out that the NPS bureaucracy often insisted that its aesthetic principles be incorporated into projects, and in the case of the Haleakalā crater road, that means that landscape architects like Merel Sager made sure to cover up the scars created by the road building process while refusing to succumb to the pleas of locals who sought to have a road built into the crater itself. Duensing is less critical of the NPS than many recent scholars have been, finding much to praise in the efforts of those who planned and built the roads.
What is missing is any sense of division over these roads. While the author notes that it was...