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Cecil Lee

History of Balestier Road

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BALESTIER ROAD

Balestier Road is a street that offers visitors a taste of history. With a story that spans nearly 180 years, this neighbourhood has borne Witness to Singapore’s journey from a British trading post to a modern city-state. 

Today, Singaporeans flock to Balestier Road to feast on chicken rice, bak kut teh (pork ribs tea) and tau sar Piah (flaky pastry with abean paste filling). 

Others come to buy lightings goods and fixtures for their homes and bathrooms. But behind the five-foot Ways that still line much of Balestier Road, there are other discoveries to be made. 

Formerly a sugar cane plantation, this district was also where key moments of the 1911 Chinese Revolution were hatched and classic Malay films were produced. 

Through this series of storyboards and trail markers placed by selected sites of historical and architectural interest, we hope to pique your curiosity about Balestier Road and invite you to explore the old world charm and colours of a street that has seen tremendous change, and yet remains a thriving marker of 

Singapore’s past and peoples; The Urban Redevelopment Authority has recognised the historical value of Balestier Road’s built heritage by gazetting about 150 buildings along the road as conserved units in 2003, a move that preserves these shophouses and other structures for future generations.

 

A NEIGHBOURHOOD OF MANY NAMES

Balestier Road and its surrounding area have been called different names by the communities who lived and worked here over time. The main road is named after Joseph Balestier, the first American Consul to Singapore.

Or Kio (‘Black Bridge’ in Hokkien) is an old name for Balestier Road. This name arose as a dark wooden bridge was said to have once spanned Sungei Whampoa between Ah Hood Road and Toa Payoh. Another old name is Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Koai, after a prominent Chinese temple along the road. Koai means ‘street’ in Hokkien, While Goh Chor is the translation of Rochore, the district’s name in the mid 19th century.

The Cantonese once used the name WuHap Thong or ‘Taro Pond’, as this semi—aquatic root crop was grown
in the neighbourhood. Thannir Kampam or ‘Water Village’ is an old Tamil name that refers to a time when bullock carts were used to ferry water from the nearby Sungei Whampoa to the city centre. Meanwhile, the Malays used the name Kebun Limau or ‘Citrus Garden’ to denote the area around the present 'Lorong Limau
(off Kim Keat Road), where many lime gardens once flourished. .

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Master Cecil Lee, Geomancy.Net

Master Cecil Lee, Geomancy.Net

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THE LEGACY OF JOSEPH BALESTIER .

The story of Balestier Road began in New England (on the east coast of America), where Joseph Balestier grew up after he was born in 1788. 

In May 1834, Balestier arrived in Riau (now Bintan) as the American Consul with the mission to render aid to American shipping. 

Balestier chose to reside in Singapore, however, as he felt the island was a more important trading hub. He was named Consul to Singapore on 4 July 1836.

In 1834, Balestier leased 405 hectares of land, on which he planted 89 hectares of sugar cane. The land, which became known as Balestier Plain, was bounded by Sungei Whampoa, Serangoon, Balestier and Kim Keat Roads. Unfortunately, the estate proved unviable due to heavy duties on Singapore-grown sugar. In 1848, the plantation was put up for sale and Balestier left Singapore in 1852. He died in 1858 in York, Pennsylvania.

Balestier’s wife, Maria Revere (1785—1847), was a daughter of Paul Revere, a bell—maker and hero of the American Revolution. In 1843, Maria presented a bell cast by her father’s foundry to St, Andrew’s Cathedral. Known as the Revere Bell, this bell is now part of the National Museum of Singapore collection.

 

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Master Cecil Lee, Geomancy.Net

Master Cecil Lee, Geomancy.Net

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