Historically, sheep-raising was one of the oldest introduced agricultural pursuits in Hawai‘i. Sheep were originally introduced to the Big Island by Capt. George Vancouver in 1793, when he left two ewes and a ram at Kealakekua.
Sheep were being raised for export by 1809 and flourished through the early part of the 20th century. Most meat was consumed locally and wool was supplied to mainland US buyers. Wool production reached its peak in 1875 when 565,000-pounds were sent overseas.
A visible remnant of the sheep industry is the Humu‘ula Sheep Station, situated at the junction of Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea.
The Sheep Station has historical and architectural interest because sheep raising, although never a major industry, was carried on until the last large flock in the Islands, located at Humu’ula, was phased-out in the early 1960s.
The Humu‘uIa Sheep Station Company chartered by the Hawaiian Government in 1883, was an operation of H. Hackfeld and Company.
By 1894, the company had erected large and extensive paddocks at Kalai‘eha (named for the pu‘u (cinder cone) near the site) and also had a station at Keanakolu (near where DLNR has some cabins and other facilities on the Mana-Keanakolu Road that skirts the east and north side of Mauna Kea.)
Ownership of the station then came under Parker Ranch and operations continued for years, often little known by Hawai’i residents due to its comparatively isolated location.
Sheep raising at Humu‘uIa was given‐up in 1963 and although abandoned as a sheep station, cattle ranch support activities continued until 2002, when the Parker lease expired.
The Sheep Station site contains a mix of structures and artifacts with varying degrees of historic, architectural and aesthetic significance.
Existing structures include offices, living facilities, outbuildings, work sheds, shearing sheds, holding pens and catchment facilities.
Buildings and artifacts tell an interesting architectural story and provide a historic backdrop for a contemporary rustic experience.
The site was assessed by the State Historic Preservation Division for placement on the Hawai’i Register of Historic Places.
The historian determined that the site’s architectural interest and merit lie in “structures (c. 1900) [that] are typical ranch house style but are particularly interesting for their ‘homemade’ contrived plans and arrangements, both functional and picturesque.”
The main historic building on site consists of an office and dwelling which was part of a cluster that represents the property’s rustic character. It was originally built as a men’s living cottage and, over time, converted to office and residential use.
The structure was built in stages and consists of two distinct wings, both with gable roofs. The 1973 SHPD assessment refers to the elaborate decoration of the living room with skylight, wainscoting and carved scrollwork.
Unfortunately, in the 39-years since the assessment, the building has deteriorated from neglect and lack of maintenance. A preliminary architectural inspection indicates that the building will require extensive structural rehabilitation to meet current health and safety standards for occupancy.
The good news is DHHL, owner of the site, recently adopted the ‘Āina Mauna Legacy Program. One of the actions called for in that Plan and its accompanying Environmental Assessment is the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Humu‘ula Sheep Station.
We are honored and proud to have prepared the ʻĀina Mauna Legacy Program planning document, Implementation Strategy and Work Plan, Cultural Impact Assessment and Environmental Assessment for DHHL.
We are equally proud the ʻĀina Mauna Legacy Program was unanimously approved by the Hawaiian Homes Commission and was given the “Environment/Preservation Award” from the American Planning Association‐Hawaiʻi Chapter and the “Koa: Standing the Test of Time Award” by the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture and the Hawaiʻi Forest Industry Association.
The photo shows the Humu‘ula Sheep Station in 1892 Photo: ED Preston. I have added some additional images of the remnant structures at the Humu‘ula Sheep Station in the Photos section; as you will see, there are lots of old, falling down buildings.