unique chapter in the history of sugar on Kaua'iBy Chris Cook
New Media Manager
KILAUEA - Since its closing almost three decades ago the
buildings and equipment of the Kilauea Sugar Co. have gradually receded into
the past, encircled and displaced by the development of homes and businesses at
Memories of the plantation are living on, with the collecting
of details of the 10 decades the plantation was in operation by Kilauea
resident Gary Smith and other local historians. Also helping is the work of the
Kaua'i Historical Society in indexing the plantation's papers, which are now in
the society's archives and available for scholarly study.
Smith narrated an
in-depth slide show that illustrated the history of the plantation at a
standing-room-only event held Tuesday night at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center.
Smith is the son of Ernest Smith, who served as C. Brewer's plantation
manager at Kilauea from 1960-1969. The family spent lived in the rock walled
plantation manager's house mauka of Kuhio Highway.
Anecdotes of the days
when life at Kilauea revolved around work at the plantation were told by Smith,
and included reminiscents of elderly Kilauea residents he's collected over the
Along with a bevy of facts about Kilauea Sugar, Smith painted a
picture of daily life on the North Shore during the plantation days. He told of
muddy roads, lives timed by the blast of the plantation whistle, community
athletic events and holiday programs, free medical care and housing, and a
tight-knit community of about 700 where everyone knew each other, and
everyone's lives were tied to the plantation.
Smith waxed nostalgic about
life at Kilauea prior to its closing in 1971, and said the dream of his youth
was to follow in his family's tradition and become a plantation manager.
Smith's great uncle came to England to work on a Big Island plantation,
followed by his grandfather. Though Smith's wish to become a plantation manager
at Kilauea ended with the closing of the plantation, he returned to the North
Shore town following graduation at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa to found
Mokihana Pest Control, a successful business he continues to run.
of Kilauea Plantation go back to the 1860s when American settler Charles
Titcomb bought the ahupua'a of Kilauea from Kamehameha IV for about $3,000 and
moved there from Hanalei in 1863. Titcomb gave up sugar growing at Hanalei and
built a homestead and cattle ranch at Kilauea which grew into the town of
Kilauea in what was then known as the moku of Ko'olau. He later bought the
adjoining ahupua'a of Namahana.
In 1877 Titcomb sold the Kilauea property
to Englishmen John Ross and E. P. Adams, and leased his Namahana lands to them.
The partners began planting sugar cane, then founded Kilauea Sugar Co. and
launched the plantation.
The Titcomb family reserved a quarter acre for
family use. Titcomb died in 1883. He and his wife are buried on the parcel,
which is located behind Kilauea School.
The Namahana and Kilauea lands were
eventually sold to R. A. Macfie, son of a wealthy Scottish businessman who
placed him as plantation manager at Kilauea.
Macfie sold part of the lands
in 1926 to J. D. Spreckles, the son of sugar baron Claus Spreckles. Land was
set aside for Kilauea School, which was first located north of today's
C. Brewer and company took over management of Kilauea Plantation in
1922, with L. D. Larsen becoming manager. The details of their purchase of the
plantation are unclear. Larsen's namesake beach at Moloa'a is located near the
site of the manager's beach home. Larsen is notable in Kilauea's history for
his work building the stone-walled buildings at Kilauea.
Smith pointed out
that the plantation was known for it's "firsts" on Kaua'i. These included
construction of the first plantation railroad and the first cane cleaning
Then Princess Regent Liliu'okalani visited Kilauea in 1881 to drive
in the last spike of the railroad, Smith said. She was greeted by Kilauea
residents who held a colorful procession in Kilauea town.
C. Brewer ran the
plantation and ran it until its closing in 1971. Among the notable events of
this era was the construction of field stone-walled houses for management and
skilled workers at the plantation. Smith pointed out that the stone-walled
homes built at Kilauea Point in the 1910s used quarried stone, while the ones
built at the plantation beginning in 1926 used field stones cleared from the
Larsen wanted to replace run down wooden plantation
homes with long-lasting stone walled ones, using the abundant supply of
The heart of Kilauea town, as was evident in Smith's talk, was its
people. Workers included Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean,
Spanish, Puerto Ricans, Scots and Englishmen, Filipinos, and event a
contingent of Gilbert Islanders.
At first the ethnic groups were segregated
into their own camps. However, Smith explained, as the decades passed the
system changed, with bachelor workers in one camp, families in another, and
better homes allocated according to the job rank in the camp.
By the late
1940s over 200 homes were built at Kilauea. When the plantation closed workers
still living at Kilauea were given the opportunity to buy lots, with choices
based on seniorarity.
Smith said rank and file workers were housed along
the edge of hillsides overlooking the Kilauea River, above the plantation dump.
Today the lots are the most valuable in Kilauea Town due to their excellent
The closing of the plantation came about when federal Environmental
Protection Agency regulations were enacted in the 1960s. Problems the EPA found
included mill waste running off into the ocean below Crater Hill.
said besides being financially unable to bring the plantation up to EPA
standards, Kilauea faced changing times in the Hawai'i sugar industry.
said in the old days water supplies were critical to plantation success, now an
abundance of sunshine is a critical factor as irrigation supplies supply an
abundance of water. This trend is evident on Kaua'i where West Side plantations
at Kekaha and Makaweli continue operations while Kilauea on the wet North Shore
Smith praised the former Kilauea Plantation workers who stuck it
out after the plantation closed, built homes or fixed up their old ones, and
found work at Princeville resort, in Lihu'e and elsewhere to keep the town