Straddling the Hanapepe River, the east and west sides of Hanapepe town are connected by a single-lane bridge with an elevated pedestrian sidewalk (1911). Originally, a rather substantial Hawaiian settlement resided in this area thanks to the fertile, well-irrigated, flat valley floor, which supported extensive taro loi (fields). Disease, however, decimated the native Hawaiian people, and by the mid-nineteenth century, the area's population had dwindled to a few hundred. Chinese rice farmers were attracted to the already established wetland agriculture fields, and they intermingled with the Hawaiian population during the 1880s. The town expanded in the 1890s, most likely a result of the growth in sugar production at neighboring Makaweli and Eleele. It was also during this period that Japanese merchants, leaving the plantations, established enterprises in the town. During the 1930s, Hanapepe's prosperity began to decline. Not only did merchants have to contend with the worldwide economic depression but Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue supplanted Port Allen as Kauai's primary port, and the belt highway traversing the west side of the island was rerouted to bypass the town. As a result, Hanapepe has maintained much of its early-twentieth-century appearance. Land planners in the late 1940s attempted to refocus community activity to the makai side of the belt highway, with a minimum of success.
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