Mokuola, in Hawaiian culture, is a place of healing. A rock just off its shore is believed to have healing powers, and people who were sick have come to Mokuola to swim around the rock in the hopes of healing their ailments. (Miller)
People came here for spring water believed to have healing qualities; umbilical cords of infants were hidden here under a flat stone known as Papa-a-Hina (stratum of Hina) to protect them from rats. (Pukui)
A sea pool to the right of the landing on the island was called Puaʻa-kāheka. Just outside of Mokuola is a small islet called Kaulaʻi-nā-iwi, literally ‘dry the bones’ (bones of chiefs were dried here.) (Hawaii County)
Occasional reference is made to Mokuola (also now called Coconut Island) as the place of refuge of the Hilo district, hence its name, life island. Careful enquiry shows that the area of this puʻuhonua included also a portion of the mainland adjoining. The heiau connected with it, named Makaoku. (Thrum)
Makaoku is an ʻili in Waiākea. In 1909, the Territory set aside 3.5-acres in the ʻili of Makaoku, Waiākea as the Kauikeaouli Park. Today, the Liliʻuokalani Gardens (the Japanese Gardens) and associated land has a land area of about 30-acres and includes this former park named for the earlier king.
Mokuola was repeatedly struck when tsunami entered Hilo Bay.
“We have had a great disaster at Hilo … at 5 o’clock it swept in, in a mighty wave, washing up and into nearly all the stores … But at Waiākea the damage was frightful. … There has been nothing like this tidal wave since the year 1837 … when many grass houses were destroyed.” (Severance, Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 26, 1877)
“The water was 3 inches deep in Conway's store, when the 5 o'clock wave came In. The wave at Waiakea must have had a perpendicular height of 16 feet, to have taken the bridge and wharf where they now lie. The water swept completely over Cocoanut Inland, and the hospital there has disappeared.” (Severance, Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 26, 1877)
A tsunami struck again. “Cocoanut Island was pretty well wrecked. The wave swept it completely. The old house formerly used by the keeper of the island, was turned completely around and swept seaward for a distance of about 20 feet and then laid flat on the ground. A tall cocoanut tree, directly in its path was snapped off at the ground. The bathhouses were also torn down and moved some 12 feet nearer the landing place.” (Hawai‘i Herald, February 8, 1923; Miller)
There is a coconut palm on the Island with small bands that indicate the maximum wave height of tsunami that washed over the island (8-feet, 1957; 12-feet, 1952; 15-feet, 1960; and 26-feet, 1946.)
The Spanish-American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence. Back then, Spain had interests in the Pacific, particularly in the Guam and Philippines. Although the main issue was Cuban independence, the ten-week war was fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific.
In the Islands, there was no assigned garrison here until August 15, 1898, when the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry regiment and the 3rd Battalion, 2nd US Volunteer Engineers landed in Honolulu for garrison duty. They setup camp (‘Camp McKinley’) at Kapiʻolani Park.
Later (November 8, 1898,) approximately 200-soldiers of the 1st New York sailed from Honolulu to Hilo to inspect sites for a possible permanent military post – a highlight of their visit was a hike to the Kilauea volcano. The soldiers camped in the new wharf (just down the coast from Mokuola.) (Greguras)
In 1900, the Hilo Swimming Club petitioned the government to designate Mokuola as a recreation area. Swimming facilities including a bathhouse and diving boards were built.
In 1910, a 30-foot-high wooden diving tower was built with platforms at 5-foot, 14-foot, and 30-foot levels. After it was destroyed in the tsunami of 1923, a stone tower was built with two levels, steps, springboards, and railings.
At the beginning of World War II, the military took control of Coconut Island, and the Navy used this tower to train troops in amphibious warfare. (Valentine)
This was not the only military use on the Island. In 1942, Mokuola USO was established, and recreational and training facilities were constructed there for American soldiers. The facilities were officially opened to soldiers in 1943. (Miller)
During the war, the island was restricted to military personnel. On two days per week, however, lady friends of servicemen were allowed to visit the USO, which was accessed by a pontoon bridge, the first bridge to the island. During the occupation, a new pavilion, showers and restrooms were built. The military gave the island back to the county in 1945. (Valentine)
When the island was finally turned over to the county in 1945, the pontoon bridge was put off-limits due to it being a “hazard to children and too costly to maintain.”
Boat service between the island and the shore resumed until April 1, 1946 when a devastating tsunami once again destroyed all of the structures on Mokuola except for a concrete diving tower that is believed to have been constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers for training purposes. (Miller)
The 1960 tsunami washed completely over the island, destroying all buildings and the new bridge there. For three years, Mokuola was abandoned.
Funds were eventually allocated for a major restoration project of the island, including a new metal and concrete bridge, and new concrete walls to slow erosion.
By 1969 the bridge was completed and the park was re-opened to the public. (Miller) It remains a public park.
The image shows Mokuola. (DMY) In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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