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Sembawang Road, a two-way road, begins from the junction of Mandai Road and Upper Thomson Road. It ends near the Sembawang Road End Bus Terminal at former Kampong Wak Hassan. Home to many kampongs in the past, the road today is most sought after for the only hot spring in Singapore, the Sembawang hot spring.
The earliest reference to Sembawang is found in Franklin & Jackson's map of 1830 called Plan of Singapore where it mentions River Tambuwang. The road is said to be named after the sembawang tree, kayae ferruginea. Sembawang Road was constructed in the 1930s over what was originally Seletar Road. it began as a mere track, possibly laid as a road in the 1920s to provide access to Singapore town from the naval base building. This track was officially named Sembawang Road in 1938. Seah Eu Chin, the "King of gambier", owned large gambier plantations in Sembawang in the mid-19th century. Sembawang Road, along with other related roads: Sembawang Expressway, Sembawang Hills Drive, Sembawang Place and Sembawang Terminal Roads: was a part of the Nee Soon Rubber Estate in the early 20th century. Mosquito buses plied up and down Sembawang Road until the 1930s. In 1935, a Chinese bus company provided transportation facilities. After the war, the Nee Soon area could be reached from the city by Tay Koh Yat buses.
Lim Nee Soon, the illustrious rubber and pineapple planter, built a row of shophouses on Sembawang Road in 1912 and established the chop "Thong Aik" that dealt with rubber. Some of the shophouses were later used as housing units. Sembawang Road was the scene of the worst fire accident in Nee Soon. On 23 March 1951, a row of 22 shophouses housing various businesses caught fire making 500 residents homeless and destroying S$300,000 worth of property.
Sembawang Road was home to many villages, such as the Chye Kay Village, Sungei Simpang Village, Chong Pang Village and Sembawang Village. Agriculture was the main economic activity of the villagers here. While most of the kampongs had disappeared by the 1970s and 1980s, some kampongs remained even until the late 1990s. One such village was the Kampong Wak Hassan, opposite the Sembawang Park, near the former Mihad Jetty. The kampong in its last days was made up of just one Malay and six Chinese families. They were asked to move out of their kampong in 1998 to make way for new developments. The nearby Mihad Jetty, home to 20 small boats, was demolished along with the attap houses in Kampong Wak Hassan in May 2000.
Sembawang was also home to the New Zealand forces who occupied bungalows and double-storey houses and flats up to 1989.
Sembawang Road today is a dual carriageway lined with greenery on both sides. In the 1990s, a spurt of development work was done to the road. For example, in 1993, a 3.4 km dual-carriage six-lane road linking Yishun and Woodlands was constructed. Called Gambas Avenue, it shortens the travel time between Sembawang Road and Woodlands New Town.
Many private residential units were constructed along this street in the 1990s. A bird sanctuary, the Senoko Bird Sanctuary, attracted nearly 1000 birds a day until it was levelled in 1994 to pave way for new housing and industrial estates. In 1994, the URA approved the construction of 450 terrace, semi-detached and detached houses over 112,214 sq m along Sembawang Road and Jalan Ulu Seletar. The following year, Fraser and Neave obtained approval to begin construction of 100 houses along Sembawang Road, between Gambas Avenue and Jalan Ulu Sembawang. Private housing estates along Sembawang Road today include The Springside, Hong Heng Mansions, Forest Hills Condo, Euphony Gardens, Sembawang Cottage and Sembawang Straits Estate. It is also home to HDB housing estates, such as the Chong Pang Estate and Yishun New Town.
The Sembawang Park, developed in the late 1970s, is spread over 11 ha, making it one of the largest parks in northern Singapore. Equipped with recreational facilities and linked by meandering footpaths, the park is home to a wide variety of flora. The park is also home to the Beaulieu House. Built around 1910, it once served as an admiral's residence. A grand building with a mansard roof, it is now a restaurant. Sembawang Springs, Singapore's only hot springs, is also located in this area. The spring water was bottled and sold commercially as Seletaris mineral water by Fraser and Neave in the 1950s. A factory for the purpose, called Semangat Ayer factory, used be located on a 10 ha area here. Sold to Centrepoint Properties Ltd, the site was used for another industrial project in 1992. A two-storey house on Pakistan Road, off Sembawang Road, which was formerly used by the Seletar Sports Club, was converted into a halfway house for the rehabilitation of drug addicts in the mid-1990s. In 1994, a new golf clubhouse, modelled after a modern country club, was built at the junction of Sembawang Road and Mandai Avenue at the cost of S$4.1 million.
Significant buildings along the Sembawang Road include the SAF Education Centre, Sembawang Community Centre, Sembawang Shopping Centre and the Boys' Brigade & Girls' Brigade Campsite. Blessed with nature's bounties, this 23 km long road still retains some of its past charm and is a pleasant road to drive through.
Thulaja Naidu Ratnala
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The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.