Road and Rail
Manawatu — The Communication Hub
Easy access has always been a vital element in the development of Manawatu.
As the European era of the region began roads and railways were the building blocks to attract settlers and to get goods in and out. Hundreds of men found work building the roads, railways and bridges in the district. Who was in charge of those first big projects carried out with pick and shovel, horse and cart?
The road to the Manawatu Gorge was one of the first contracts and Amos Burr was the overseer of the 50 men working on this in 1866. Burr had arrived in New Zealand in 1840 aboard the New Zealand Company ship Cuba. He was detailed to fire the cannon on the ship as it lay in Wellington Harbour and lost both forearms in the resulting accident. Since then he had worked and lived in Foxton. Burr became Government Overseer of Roads in Manawatu in 1869 and supervised the first Scandinavian groups as they worked on the road in 1871.
Henry McNeil and Clark Dunn were independent contractors who worked at many road and bridge construction projects during the first two decades of European settlement. Clark Dunn’s biggest contract was the construction of the first road through the Manawatu Gorge. Henry McNeil was the contractor who built the first bridge at the Woodville end of the Manawatu Gorge.
Getting through the Gorge
An enormous project of the 1870s was the survey and construction of a winding, one-way road through the Manawatu Gorge. It was a key event in the development of road communication in not only Manawatu itself, but as a vital inland link for the central North Island. Construction took place during 1871-72 with the route being laboriously hewn or blasted out of the solid rock riverside cliffs. Total cost was Â£5,000.
The bridge over the Manawatu River, at the Woodville end of the Gorge, was the crucial final stage of this project. It was completed in 1875 at a cost of Â£12,000, and created the first road link between Wellington and Naper.
A railway route through the Gorge proved to be even more difficult to achieve. A survey was carried out in 1871, but construction did not start until 1886. Because the contractor went bankrupt the project dragged on and was not completed until 1891.