Kennon Road and Baguio
The epic of Kennon Road is a part of the story of Baguio.
Without it, Baguio would not have survived.
The most expensive project of the colonial government
The Benguet Road was opened for regular service on March 27th of the same year. The cost of the road as of November 1, 1905, had been $1,966,847.05, and the cost of the heavy work in the canyon had been approximately $75,000 per mile (roughly P6,280,000.00 per kilometer in today’s rates).
In addition to the roadbed itself, Colonel Kennon constructed 40 bridges—two of which were made of steel, the others of wood. Except for the use of dynamite to blast out solid rock, it must be noted that there were no heavy equipment then—work was done usually with ordinary picks and shovels. This was no small feat in 1905. Still, according to engineering experts, it was the most expensive engineering work at that time, a big drain on the colonial budget.
The bull-cart ride from Twin Peaks to Baguio took all of 3 hours and 5 minutes. (Today, on a clear day, it takes a mere 45 minutes by car.)
Three years after its completion, American Governor General Leonard Wood issued an executive order naming the road after Kennon.
During the 1909 season, the railroad having reached Camp One, five large Stanley steam automobiles were operated by the government in transporting passengers from this place to Baguio, and more than two thousand persons were thus moved over the road.
Early travel through Kennon Road
(Excerpt from: Erlyn Ruth Alcantara, "Building the Benguet Road," MS, October 1998.) Sample schedule of a trip from Manila to Baguio at around 1912: “Leave Manila on board the narrow-gauge European- style train of the Manila Railroad Company at 8 am, served breakfast and lunch aboard the dining car. After a hot and dusty trip, reached the Dagupan railhead at 1:30 pm. Changed to a branch line at San Fabian for Camp One. From the station at Camp One, transferred to a passenger motorbus of the Benguet Auto Line for a slow three hour climb on the narrow Benguet Road, stopping every now and then to wait for the ‘down’ traffic to receive dispatches
Assessment of Kennon Road
After researching on the construction of Kennon Road vis-à-vis the participation of Stanley steam automobiles at the early of the road’s operation, writer Bozi Mohacek observed:
“It seems that construction of Benguet Road by Major Kennon may not have been as much of a success as was made out at the time. It was enormously expensive and took nearly five years to complete and, having been built separately from both directions simultaneously, did not meet as expected. This resulted in the construction of the serpentine 'ZigZag' which taxed the men and animals constructing it and limited the vehicles that could be used on it afterwards. It is said that while Cameron Forbes initially admired Kennon's work, he seems to have changed his mind and quietly transferred Kennon out of the Philippines.”
In other words, what we see and admire as the Zigzag portion of Kennon Road was actually the result of a grave engineering error—a basic blunder where the lower portion of the road did not meet as it should with the upper section. But the Americans did not condemn this mistake—they glorified it. To paraphrase an old Tagalog maxim: “Bato na ginawang ginto.”
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the completion of the Kennon Road in 1905, just five years after the American colonial government authorized its construction, opened up Baguio and soon the rest of the Cordillera region to the world. More than that, it spurred the development of Baguio and nearby areas so that in 1920, the city was already a thriving population center.
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About the Author:
Ernesto R. Zárate, FPIA, a Fellow of the Philippine Institute of Architects, is also an actor in Philippine movies and television and a published author. He was born and raised in Baguio City. His father, Juan F. Zárate, a Baguio old-timer, was the supervising teacher for the entire Mountain Province (Apayao, Kalinga, Bontoc, Ifugao and Benguet) during the American Occupation. His grandfather was the first treasurer of the Baguio local government which was then just a township.