Geologic evidence suggests that the modern caldera of Kīlauea formed shortly before 1500 AD. Repeated small collapses may have affected parts of the caldera floor, possibly as late as 1790. For over 300-400 years, the caldera was below the water table.
Kīlauea is an explosive volcano; several phreatic eruptions have occurred in the past 1,200 years. (Phreatic eruptions, also called phreatic explosions, occur when magma heats ground or surface water.)
The extreme temperature of the magma (from 932 to 2,138 °F) causes near-instantaneous evaporation to steam, resulting in an explosion of steam, water, ash and rock – the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was a phreatic eruption.
There were explosions in 1790, the most lethal known eruption of any volcano in the present United States. The 1790 explosions, however, simply culminated (or at least occurred near the end of) a 300-year period of frequent explosions, some quite powerful. (USGS)
Keonehelelei is the name given by Hawaiians to the explosive eruption of Kilauea in 1790. It is probably so named “the falling sands” because the eruption involved an explosion of hot gas, ash and sand that rained down across the Kaʻu Desert. The character of the eruption was likely distinct enough to warrant a special name. (Moniz-Nakamura)
The 1790 explosion led to the death of one-third of the warrior party of Kaʻū Chief Keōua. At the time Keōua was the only remaining rival of Kamehameha the Great for control of the Island of Hawaiʻi; Keōua ruled half of Hāmākua and all of Puna and Kaʻū Districts. They were passing through the Kilauea area at the time of the eruption. (Moniz-Nakamura)
Camped in Hilo, Keōua learned of an invasion of his home district of Kaʻū by warriors of Kamehameha. To reach Kaʻū from Hilo, Keōua had a choice of two routes one was the usually traveled coastal route, at sea level, but it was longer, hot, shadeless and without potable water for long distances. (NPS)
The other route was shorter, but passed over the summit and through the lee of Kilauea volcano, an area sacred to, and the home of, the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele. Keōua chose the volcano route, perhaps because it was shorter and quicker, with water available frequently. (NPS)
… Fast forward … “Despite the network of Pre-Western contact trails that covered the island, Hawaiʻi lacked a comprehensive system of interior roads for overland travel before 1846.”
“In that year, the Kingdom established the Department of the Interior and the office of Superintendent of Internal Improvements (the forerunner of Public Works) to oversee the construction of piers, harbors, government buildings, roads, and bridges.” (Terry)
Like the times of Keōua, “Two routes may be taken to the crater Kilauea, on the slope of Mauna Loa, one by Puna, the other by ‘Ōla‘a. It will be advisable to combine both, by going one way and returning the other.”
“Time being an object, the trip to and from the crater via ‘Ōla‘a can be accomplished in three days, which will give one day and two nights at the volcano house.” (Whitney, 1875)
“A critical step toward developing agriculture in ʻŌlaʻa was the creation of a new road between Hilo and Kīlauea located mauka of the Old Volcano Trail.” (Terry)
Work on the road began in 1890 using mainly prison labor, and in September of 1894 the entire road was completed. As the new Volcano Road through ʻŌlaʻa was being built, the Crown made a large portion of potential agricultural lands in ʻŌlaʻa available for lease and homesteading.”
“Three hundred eighty-five ʻŌlaʻa Reservation lease lots were created mauka and makai of the new Volcano Road, as well as an additional forty homesteads.” (Terry)
The ‘Ōla‘a Sugar Company was incorporated on May 3, 1899; the promoters purchased 16,000 acres in fee simple land and nearly 7,000 acres in long leasehold from WH Shipman. The plantation fields extended for ten miles along both sides of Volcano Road as well as in the Pāhoa and Kapoho areas of the Puna District.”
‘Ōla‘a Sugar Company began as one of Hawai‘i’s largest sugar plantations with much of its acreage covered in trees. Previous to cane, coffee was the primary agricultural crop grown in the region. After purchase of these lands, the company uprooted the coffee trees and cleared it for planting sugarcane.”
“The town of Mountain View grew with the sugar trade, as immigrant laborers were imported from Japan, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to work on the sugar plantation.”
“Another lesser known group also came to ʻŌlaʻa. In 1897, the Hawaiian Minister of Foreign Affairs approved a request by H.F Hackfeld and Company (who acted as a recruiting agency for the “Planters Association”) to bring in European laborers for a number of sugar plantations.”
“Between 1897 and 1910, a number of Ukrainian families and single workers were recruited to work for ʻŌlaʻa Sugar Company. Most Ukrainian immigrants left ʻŌlaʻa for the US mainland in 1905 and 1906, but a few remained.” (Terry)
Among those who stayed in Mountain View were Michael and Annie Pszyk. (Terry) They a fifty-acre farm and in addition to work on the plantation they began to clear some land and go into developing a small herds of cows.
It was rather isolated, about 1 ½ miles from the highway. They first blazed a path so that they were able to walk out to Volcano
He then widened it into a trail, but it wasn’t very satisfactory to haul wood to the village for which there was good demand, and take milk and other products.
“My father approached the council to have them make the trail into a road, but there was little interest in such a project.”
“He, eventually, widened the trail himself and made it into a passable road. Then the council took it over and named it Pszyk Road, and rightly so …” (Helen Richardson-Pszyk; Ewanchuck)