5 Things You Never Knew About Punggol’s History

PropertyGuru Editorial Team
5 Things You Never Knew About Punggol’s History
Punggol used to be known as one of the most “ulu” parts of Singapore – travelling along roads into the estate almost felt as if you were entering an abandoned area.
Punggol gave off the feeling of a foreign land – so different it was from the sprawling concrete jungles of more developed estates back then.
Today, Punggol’s main highlights would probably be Punggol Waterway and Coney Island – but did you know there used to be a private zoo located in Punggol as well? Or that the development of Punggol was pushed back twice?
We dive into the history of Punggol, and uncover a few things you probably never knew about Singapore’s youngest estate.

1. Punggol used to be home to pig farmers

A vegetable farm in Punggol in the 1970s - PropertyGuru Singapore
A vegetable farm in Punggol in the 1970s (Source: National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)
Before Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, the primary inhabitants of Punggol were Malay settlers. The district, while rural, was well-established, as farmhouses and other farm structures were serviced by roads and dirt tracks.
In the mid-19th Century, Chinese immigrants would begin to settle down in Punggol as well. They dealt mainly in plantation work, with a majority of them growing and harvesting rubber trees.
As their population grew, the villagers began to dabble in other businesses, such as livestock farming. It soon became common for villagers to engage in poultry, pig, and fish farming.
The last pig farm closed down in 1990, and was replaced by hydroponic vegetable and orchid farms along Cheng Lim and Buangkok Farmways. These, in turn, have given way to the high-rise HDBs that make up the new towns of Sengkang and Punggol.

2. Punggol has one of the oldest houses in Singapore (which is rumoured to be haunted!)

The Matilda House at Punggol in the evening
The Matilda House at Punggol in the evening (Source: Sim Lian Group)
Known as Matilda House, this single-storey bungalow is more than a hundred years old, and is the last historical bungalow standing in Punggol.
The bungalow was previously built by an Irish lawyer named Joseph William Cashin in 1902, and was used mainly as a weekend resort. The Cashins lived in the Matilda House from the 1950s to the 1960s, until the land around it was claimed by the government.
Slapped with the government’s Land Acquisition Act, the Cashins had no choice but to move out. Even though the Cashin’s estate was acquired, the bungalow was recognised for its unique tropical colonial architecture and historical significance given conservation status.
Due to the lack of maintenance, however, the house fell into ruins after the acquisition. Over time, urban legends arose, and there have been spooky rumors of the dilapidated house being haunted. It was given the moniker “Ghost House”, or Istana Menanti, which is Malay for ‘The Waiting Palace’.
The Matilda House used to be a frequent haunt for photographers up until 2012, when the property and the land around it was acquired by Sim Lian Group to build the condominium called A Treasure Trove.
A Treasure Trove was completed in 2015, and the refurbished Matilda House has been serving as the condo’s clubhouse, housing amenities such as a function room, lounge, and gym. No reporting of sightings, other than sweaty residents, have been reported since!

3. There was once a private zoo in Punggol

Punggol Zoo history
Contrary to popular belief, the Mandai Zoo isn’t the first zoo in Singapore, although it certainly is the first public one.
In the 1920s, a wealthy Indian trader, William Lawrence Soma Basapa, opened his private zoo at 317 Serangoon Road. Nicknamed the ‘Animal Man’, William owned dozens of animals, such as tigers, lions, baby elephants, tapirs, crocodiles, baboons, pythons, and sea lions.
Sadly, shortly before World War II, the British wanted the zoo to be demolished as they wanted to use the land as a defensive zone. When William was unable to find a place to relocate his animals to, the British cruelly shot his animals while freeing the birds.
The boundary walls of the zoo were made out of picking urns and pots, which was one of its special features. These remained intact even after the Japanese occupation, and would only be rediscovered in 2007 by the Asia Paranormal Investigators. Unfortunately, they would be torn down in 2011 once the land was reclaimed for development.
What’s interesting is that Punggol Point Crown, a BTO project launched recently in September 2019, will have designs inspired by this old zoo in Punggol.
For example, there will be an animal-themed heritage walk weaving through the area, comprising of storyboards on interesting facts about the zoo.

4. The development of Punggol was actually put off for years

In August 1996, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced the government’s plans to develop Punggol.
This plan was known as Punggol 21. It was a new concept that would serve as a model for all the other new towns in the 21st century. There would be private homes, executive condos, and high-grade HDB flats grouped into smaller precincts with distinct designs.
Unfortunately, Punggol 21 was unable to go ahead as planned as the economy was affected by the Asian economic crisis in 1997. A second financial crisis affecting the construction industry in Singapore occurred in 2003, further delaying the project.
Then in 2007 when the storm finally blew over, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced the Punggol 21 Plus plan to kickstart Punggol’s long-awaited transformation. Under the new plan, two rivers which flank the town (Sungei Punggol and Sungei Serangoon) would be dammed up to create a freshwater lake and serve as a reservoir. A man-made waterway we know today as Punggol Waterway would run through the estate and link both rivers.

5. Punggol Waterway is Singapore’s longest man-made waterway

Kayakers kayaking down Punggol Waterway in the day
Completed in 2011, Punggol Waterway is Singapore’s longest man-made waterway. At a staggering 4.2km, this massive waterway is literally more than 10 rounds around a stadium running track.
From the freshwater mangrove to the furniture that is made from fully recycled materials, the environmentally sustainable features of Punggol Waterway has led to it being awarded the Grand Prize for Excellence in Environmental Engineering, an international environment award.
Over at Punggol Waterway Park, you can cycle, fly a kite, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the dining options available there. SAFRA Punggol even offers group events where you can kayak down Punggol Waterway!
Punggol Waterway Park is segmented into 4 zones, each with their own theme:
  1. Nature Cove: Visitors can relax and enjoy the scenic view of the waterway at the Nature Cove, as well as enjoy leisurely activities there. It is not uncommon to see families holding picnics in the area.
  2. Recreation Zone: Catered to all age groups, the Recreation Zone houses amenities such as the Water Play Area and also a fitness corner.
  3. Heritage Zone: The Heritage Zone has plenty of mature trees and vegetation along its walkway for nature-lovers to appreciate.
  4. Green Gallery: Visitors can take a stroll around the Green Gallery, which contains several mature trees that have been left untouched since the formation of the park.

Punggol over the years

Here’s a look at how Punggol came to be, all the way back from the 1600s.
Development of Punggol
The first settlers move into Punggol.
Singapore is founded by Sir Stamford Raffles.
Chinese immigrants move into Punggol, setting up livestock and agricultural farms.
Punggol Beach is used as an execution site during the Sook Ching Massacre.
Amenities such as piped water, electricity, paved roads, and drainage systems are introduced to Punggol.
Punggol 21 is announced as the new housing model for future estates.
The Asian Economic Crisis pushes back plans for Punggol 21
Construction begins, but is halted when demand for housing falls
Plans are halted again when the construction industry experiences setbacks.
Also, Punggol MRT station opens to the public.
Punggol Plaza opens to the public.
Punggol East Loop LRT opens to the public.
Punggol 21 Plus is introduced to revitalise the estate.
Punggol Waterway is completed.
Punggol West Loop LRT opens to the public.
Coney Island opens to the public.
Waterway Point opens to the public.
Future plans for Punggol
By 2023
Opening of Punggol Coast MRT, and SIT University Campus
2023 onwards
Progressive opening of Punggol Digital District

Upcoming developments at Punggol

We’re pretty much marvelling at Punggol’s rich history, and how far it’s come to be what it is today. But what’s almost as impressive are the promising plans for this up-and-coming estate.
Here are some of the key highlights of what’s in store for Punggol.

Punggol Digital District

An artist’s impression of the aerial view of Punggol Digital District - PropertyGuru Singapore
An artist’s impression of the aerial view of Punggol Digital District (Source: JTC)
One major development will be Punggol Digital District. This district essentially brings together the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) campus and JTC’s business park buildings, with the aim to foster collaboration between both.
The Punggol Digital District is set to bring new jobs closer to Punggol residents, as the district will house major growth sectors of the digital economy like digital technology and cybersecurity.
As part of the Punggol Digital District, there will also be a new hawker centre, community centre, childcare facilities, as well as parks and public spaces. What’s more, there will be a new MRT on the North East Line – Punggol Coast, reducing travelling time to and from the city by 15 minutes.
This new MRT station, along with the JTC business park buildings, are expected to be completed by 2023.

Punggol Town Hub and Punggol Regional Sport Centre

Come 2021, there will be a new community hub called Punggol Town Hub, located opposite Waterway Point. This development will have a hawker centre, regional library, community club, and much more when completed.
Right next to the hub will be the new Punggol Regional Sports Centre, which will also be ready in 2021. The sports complex will be integrated with Punggol’s waterways, and will have a swimming complex and a variety of sports facilities.

Punggol Point District

From 2023, there will be progressively about 5,000 new homes in Punggol Point District. These will be set in a green estate with convenient access to retail, dining, and recreation amenities.
With all these exciting developments in the pipeline for Punggol, Punggol sure looks primed to be at the top of every new homeowner’s list!
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