Landmark bridge gets historic status

Last updated 12:00 03/12/2013

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A well-known landmark on the banks of the Manawatu River near Opiki has been registered as a site of outstanding historical significance.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust has registered the concrete remains of the Tane Hemp Company Ltd Suspension Bridge and Flaxmill, north of Opiki, as a category 1 historic place.

Category 1 status is given to places of "special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value".

Construction of the bridge and flaxmill was completed in 1917-18.

Historic Places Trust historian Karen Astwood said flax fibre, one of New Zealand's earliest export products, was a key contributor to the economy.

"There were many flax-growing regions in New Zealand, but the Manawatu and Horowhenua were notable."

The Makerua Swamp between Linton and Shannon was an important centre, with its production peaking during World War I, she said.

Members of two prominent flax industry families, the Seiferts and Akers, joined with other investors in 1915 to form the Tane Hemp Company Ltd.

Access to the railway station was problematic, so roads through the swamp and means of crossing the Manawatu River were devised, including the construction of a reinforced concrete suspension bridge.

Designed by bridge builder Joseph Dawson, it was one of the longest main span bridges ever constructed in New Zealand.

A devastating flax disease led to a post-World War I slump in demand for flax fibre, and by the early 1920s the Tane Hemp mill had closed.

The mills were demolished and the swamp drained to create farmland, while the suspension bridge passed into Akers family ownership.

After the collapse of the flax industry, the bridge gained distinction as the only privately owned toll bridge in this country's highway network. In 1969, a replacement state highway bridge was constructed and the decking of the suspension bridge was removed.

"The suspension bridge and the flaxmill remains are landmark structures. They are the only significant traces of a formerly defining regional industry," Ms Astwood said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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