Wailea Mill and Railroad over the Kolekole River, late 1920s-early 1930s
Prior to the Sugar Era
Before the Māhele The flatlands and the river and stream valleys and gullies of the northeastern part of the island of Hawai`i were important agricultural lands in traditional times. Important crops such as taro, bananas, sugar cane, coconuts, sweet potatoes, `awa, and bamboo were cultivated.
After the Māhele 1848: The Māhele ("to divide or portion") was the Hawaiian land redistribution proposed by King Kamehameha III in the 1830s and enacted in 1848. The entire ahupua‘a of Hakalau was awarded to Keahikuni-i- Kekau‘ōnohi as Land Commission Award 1121. Keahikuni-i- Kekau‘ōnohi was the granddaughter of Kamehameha I. She was a chiefess representing both Hawai‘i Island and Maui royal lineage. Upon her death, her land holdings were inherited by her husband, Ha‘alelea. Ha‘alelea passed away in 1864. After his death, his lands were sold at auction.
1850: The Māhele was followed by the Kuleana Act of 1850 which established fee simple ownership of land. Historical land tenants were required to document their claims to specific parcels in order to gain permanent title. Once granted, a kuleana plot was entirely independent of the traditional ahupua'a in which it was situated and it could also be sold to parties with no historical ties to the area.
1852: The first Chinese laborers arrived in 1852. The period of heaviest immigration continued into the 1880s.
1868-1870: Land and Labor
Hakalau Ahupua‘a was put up for auction in 1866, along with other land owned by the late Ha`alelea, to pay the his debts. Honohina Ahupua`a was put up for auction in 1870. Auctions continued for several years.
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 10, 1866, page 3, accessed via Newspapers.com
In anticipation of the need for imported labor, W. L. Green, an English merchant and later a cabinet minister for the Kingdom, placed a newspaper ad to collect "market research" to identify the types and number of laborers required in the burgeoning sugar industry:
The Hawaiian Gazette, August 12, 1868, p. 2, accessed via Newspapers.com
1871-1873: Travelers visit the Hakalau area and share their insights and experiences.
1871: A traveling correspondent describes the view of Hakalau Gulch from his schooner:
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 26, 1871, accessed via Newspapers.com
The Sugar Era (1875-1994)
1875: The Treaty of reciprocity between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom (Hawaiian: Kuʻikahi Pānaʻi Like) was a free trade agreement signed and ratified in 1875 that is generally known as the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. The treaty gave free access to the United States market for sugar and other products grown in the Kingdom of Hawaii starting in September 1876. In return, the US gained lands in the area known as Puʻu Loa for what became known as the Pearl Harbor naval base. The treaty led to large investment by Americans in sugarcane plantations in Hawaii.
1877: The Royal Commissioners on Development of Resources were charged with the identification of opportunities and government actions needed to support business development. Their findings were published on April 27, 1877.
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 5, 1877, page 5, accessed via Newspapers.com
1878:Claus Spreckles established Hakalau Sugar Plantation, with W.G Irwin and Company as agent.Portuguese immigration to Hawaii began in 1878 when Portuguese residents made up less than 1% of the Island population. However, the migration that began that year of laborers from Madeira and the Azores to work in the sugarcaneplantations rapidly increased the Portuguese presence in Hawaii, and by the end of 1911 nearly 16,000 Portuguese immigrants had arrived. Shipping from Hakalau Landing began, including both transport of people and sugar.
1879-1881: The first mill at the Hakalau Sugar Plantation built by John A. Scott.
The 1880s was a period of rapid growth for the sugar industry, building upon the momentum triggered by the Māhele of 1848, the Kuleana Act of 1850, and the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. Imported labor, particularly from China, Portugal and Japan, fueled this growth. While Chinese laborers had arrived in 1852 and accounted for 58% of Hakalau's labor force by 1887, the opportunities for further Chinese immigration were limited by the influence of the US Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Plantations turned to Portugal and Japan for laborers. For Hakalau, telephone service began and mail service, increasing in volume with the growth of the plantation, was a source of complaint. By the end of the decade, homesteads started to become available, an attraction for immigrants to settle permanently. The mongoose was imported to kill rats in the cane fields, with disastrous consequences to native birds and animals quickly apparent.
The 1890s was a period of growth and stability for Hakalau. No longer a start-up company, the Hakalau Plantation hired George Ross as manager and later his brother, John M. Ross, as Head Overseer. Together they provided steady leadership and support for both the business and the community. A new mill was built as well as a stately home for the plantation manager, which still exists today. The plantation added new lands and the workforce continued to grow, with laborers almost exclusively from Japan. The perils associated with the weather and the location of the mill were evident with both storm damage to the mill and the loss of a ship, the Kihalani, on the rocks at Hakalau. The need for road development begged attention.
The need for road development begged attention. Hakalau Town, circa 1890s, courtesy of the Lyman Museum.
The 1900s, from 1900 to 1909, was a period of development and entrepreneurship. The Hakalau Plantation, owned by Claus Spreckels, with agent Irwin and Company, continued to grow. Manager George Ross resigned due to poor health and was succeeded by his brother John M. Ross who held the position for the next 37 years. Twenty seven percent of the camp dwellings were built in this period. Owner Spreckels lost interest in conducting business in Hawaii. Agent Irwin and Company, interested in reducing business responsibilities, created the ideal opportunity for C. Brewer and Company to expand its sugar holdings through merger, becoming the agent for Hakalau Plantation. Major building blocks were established to enable Hawaii businesses to control sugar interests and profits in Hawaii.
The major focus of the decade was the building of the Kohala-Hilo Railway, necessary for the movement of sugar and other goods as well as people. Development activities entailed promotion, raising capital, land acquisition, surveying, engineering and much more. Of course, there were many challenges along the way.
The 1910swas a period of building, including 30% of camp dwellings (tabulated from the insurance valuation files from the early to mid-1950s), as well as schools, social halls and completion of the railroad. Over time, the railroad replaced ships as the means of transporting cane. During this period, camps were ethnic-specific, e.g., Kamaee Korean Camp, Wailea Spanish Camp. Immigration of Europeans, arriving with larger families, led to building larger homes to support them. Challenges for the plantation included unpredictability of crop size due to the independence of homesteaders and the formation of the Wailea Milling Company.
The 1920ssignifieda period of growth in which 32% of camp dwellings were built (tabulated from the insurance valuation files from the early to mid-1950s). A variety of other facilities were built as well, including an office building, a store replacing an earlier one, warehouses, and other facilities to support the business, and sanitation facilities and domestic water supply to support quality of life for workers. Issues related to the workforce became prominent including the need for higher worker pay and its financial consequences for the plantation; changing expectations and demands of the workforce related to both living and working conditions; and greater attention to the availability of workers and their level of satisfaction/discontent.
The 1930swas a period overshadowed by the economic uncertainty of the Great Depressionand characterized byslow growth and limited resources. Only 9% of camp dwellings were built (tabulated from the insurance valuation files from the early to mid-1950s). Other construction of this period included the bridge over Hakalau Stream (1930), a new hospital in Hakalau (1931), the Hakalau Theater (1931), and the new Hakalau Jodo Mission (1936). By mid-decade, there were more workers than productive work available to be performed, forcing the plantation to reduce hours to keep workers employed. By 1937, amid allegation of outside agitators, the plantation was faced with a shortage of workers. In addition, the implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, part of the New Deal, required adopting an eight-hour day and a forty-hour workweek and, therefore, meant that more workers needed to be hired. The increase in workers with their families meant that housing became a more urgent need, although there were inadequate resources available to speed the process along.
The 1940s were a difficult time for all plantations--more so for Hakalau. World War II resulted in shortages of manpower, supplies and equipment. Neither manpower nor supplies were available to address housing needs with the result that only 2% of camp dwellings were built during this period (tabulated from the insurance valuation files from the early to mid-1950s). Everyone--remaining adult male employees, students and women--rallied to fill in gaps. With the shortage of manpower, greater priority was given to adopting mechanical means of harvesting, a challenging proposition due to the steep and uneven terrain and muddy conditions. Nevertheless, mechanical harvesting grew from 8% of total crop harvested in 1944 to 31% in 1949. The Waile‘a Milling company merged with the Hakalau Sugar Plantation in 1943. The all-time maximum production reached at 26,509 tons for the year in 1944. By this time, 40% of the cane was grown by over 300 independent or contract planters on individually or company-owned small plots...a complex scenario to manage. The April 1st 1946 Tsunami(referred to as a tidal wave in the annual reports) was disastrous for Hakalau, destroying the Hakalau Mill and some railroad bridges, leading to the demise of the railroad. Massive destruction at the mill site effectively shut down production for one year. Postwar labor strife compounded the problems faced by the plantation and set the tone for the following decade. The first industry-wide strike disrupted all operations at the Hakalau Plantation from September 1-November 19, 1946.
The 1950s were difficult for Hakalau Plantation and the question of viability was raised repeatedly. Financial losses and heavy debt resulting from the 1946 tsunami were made worse as [industry-wide] labor strife erupted. Strikes resulted in months of lost production and new labor contracts required significantly higher wages and more employee benefits. Plantation managers and workers implemented new systems to improve efficiency of operations, most notably vastly increasing mechanized harvesting. Workers were aware that the existence of the plantation and their jobs were at risk. Improving efficiency, even if it meant a reduction in jobs, was understood to be essential. The single capital improvement deemed essential to the survival of the plantation was the building of roads to facilitate mechanical harvesting. Most other capital improvements were delayed and equipment was leased instead of purchased. The process of abandoning outlying villages and selling houses to workers on a removal basis began. The Hilo Coast plantations worked together to solve common problems like studying the road system and agricultural research to support improved fertilization practices and cane ripening studies.
The 1960s marked the end of the Hakalau Plantation Company as a separate corporate entity when it became part of the Pepeekeo Sugar Company, and later part of Mauna Kea Sugar. On the positive side, stockholders received their first payment of dividends since 1948. Pressures to reduce costs continued, with some success achieved through reduction in harvesting costs. As a consequence of the merger, capital improvements to the Hakalau Mill were not made and mill performance declined. Camps continued to be vacated with homes sold on a removal basis. In addition, the Hakalau Theater closed and worker anxiety increased. By the end of the decade, International Utilities Corporation achieved controlling interest in C. Brewer. Abandoned or underused properties in Hakalau and Ninole, i.e., Hakalau School and John M. Ross School, served as training sites for the Peace Corps.
During the 1970s the continued dismantling of Hakalau included closure of Hakalau School, shutting down Hakalau Mill after 92 years of operation, and disinterring remains from the Japanese Cemetery in Hakalau Lower Camp. Further consolidation of operations among formerly independent plantations was needed to improve efficiency and enable modernization to address issues of aging infrastructure and the need to comply with new environmental regulations. Environmental issues began to be raised related to the dumping of sewage into the ocean from the various camps, including Ninole, Hakalau Upper and Lower Camps.
The 1990s was a tumultuous decade. The sugar industry shut down. Workers for the Hilo Coast Processing Company lost 70% of their promised severance pay when the company went bankrupt. Sale of acreage in the area for "gentleman's farms" heralded the beginning of gentrification, with dramatic socio-demographic changes. Throughout this period, the community was engaged, volunteering to support each other. New arrivals stepped in as the next generation of community leaders.
The 2000s: Hakalau Kuleana residents during the first decade of the 21st Century experienced active community engagement and witnessed the sell-off of former sugar cane lands. The aging C. Brewer investors wanted to cash out their investments with the result that choice land in the Hakalau Kuleana hit the market in 2001-2002. With this change in land ownership, new tensions arose between long-time residents and new residents related to issues like beach access, and between developers and residents regarding the type of development appropriate for the physical, cultural and historical environments of the area. The creation of the Wailea Village Historic Village Preservation Community, a 501-c-3 organization, represented a concerted effort to preserve history and pursue development in a respectful manner. The residents in the Wailea/Hakalau area distilled their vision for the future. Subsequently, a nine-year effort began to create the Hāmākua Community Development Plan.Throughout the decade community activities continued, geared towards honoring the ancestors and the area's history. Art, entertainment and entrepreneurship enhanced these activities, creating events enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Community members addressed infrastructure needs, including improvements to Hakalau Veteran's Park, fundraising for restoration of the Hakalau School Gym, and creating an incubator kitchen at the Fujii Store.