Kailua Ahupua‘a is the largest on the windward side of O‘ahu, and the largest ahupua‘a of the Koʻolaupoko District. From the Koʻolau ridge line it extends down two descending ridge lines which provide the natural boundaries for the sides of the ahupua‘a.
The natural environment includes the sand accretion barrier upon which Kailua Town stands, the mountainous upland terrain and alluvial valley of Maunawili, the largest fresh water marsh in Hawai‘i (Kawainui Marsh), another inland pond (Kaʻelepulu) and intermittent streams. (Cultural Surveys)
When the first Polynesians landed and settled in Hawaiʻi (about 900 to 1000 AD (Kirch)) they brought with them shoots, roots, cuttings and seeds of various plants for food, cordage, medicine, fabric, containers, all of life’s vital needs.
“Canoe crops” (Canoe Plants) is a term to describe the group of plants brought to Hawaiʻi by these early Polynesians. One of these was ‘niu,’ the coconut; they used it for food, cordage, etc.
Later, others saw commercial opportunities from coconuts.
In 1906, Albert and Fred Waterhouse were walking over sand dunes along the approximately one-mile wide by two-and-a-half-mile long area between Kawainui Marsh and the ocean, when they envisioned the idea of planting coconut trees there.
“During the week papers will be filed with the Treasurer for the incorporation of the Hawaiian Copra Co, having lands under (a 29-year) lease from Mr Castle. …”
“(The land) is … two-hundred and fifty acres adapted to the cultivation of cocoanut trees, of which it has twenty thousand, half of which are nearly three feet high and the balance recently planted.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 12, 1907)
“Samples of copra (dried meat of coconut) grown here have been forwarded to San Francisco …. The quality of the product is excellent, comparing favorably with that of the best grade received in that market, and the price per pound is satisfactory. So well pleased are the people on the Coast that they have signified a willingness to take all that can be shipped to them.”
“The copra is compressed and the extracted oil used in the manufacture of soaps, and as oils in the manufacture of high-grade paints. Another use to which it is put is the manufacture of shredded cocoanut, which is utilized by confectioners and bakers. The fiber is made into hawsers (ropes) for towing purposes.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 12, 1907)
They “leveled the sand dunes and smoothed out the sand hillocks,” and planted approximately 320-acres with over 130,000-coconut trees.
Many rows of ironwood trees were also planted as a windbreak and a fence had to be built to keep cattle out. (Drigot)
“The (coconuts were) secured from Kauai …. We have sunk one well and found water at a depth of 51-feet. It is our intention to sink about 25-such wells for irrigation purposes.”
“Our trees will be of the Samoan variety and will bear when about seven years old. There is very little labor needed. Eight men will take care of the whole place, so we will have no labor problem to contend with.” (Maui News, September 17, 1907)
“One of the uses to which copra is put and for which there has not yet been found an available substitute is in the production of salt water soap, soap that will lather and be effective in salt water.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 15, 1907)
Things looked up.
“George A Moore & Co, commission merchants, of San Francisco, see no reason why Hawaiian copra should not compete more than favorably with other South Sea copra in the mainland market.… (He noted,) We beg to call to your attention the large consumption in this market of dried cocoanut, commercially known as copra, which reaches as high as fifteen thousand tons per annum.”
“Most of our importations are brought from the Pacific and South Sea Islands, but having recently seen a small parcel which issued from the Hawaiian Islands of very good quality it occurs to us and we see no reason why large quantities of this could not be brought from the American island possessions, notably the Hawaiian Islands.”
“For your information we would say that the ripe cocoanuts are cracked open and exposed to the sun, whereupon the meat shrinks from the shell and the dried meat itself constitutes the commodity above referred to, which is today realizing in our market 3 3/8 c US gold.”
“Cocoanut plantations in the Pacific Islands for the production of copra have now become quite an extensive and profitable venture, and we have no doubt it would prove so to your planters. ” (Peters; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 17, 1908)
It didn’t last. … In 1916, the copra/coconut oil enterprise failed.
The Waterhouses sold their “Coconut Grove” to AH Rice, who planned a residential subdivision in the area. In 1924, Earl H Williams, of Liberty Investment Co, acquired 200-acres from Rice and began the subdivision process (the Coconut Grove Tract.) (Drigot) At the end of World War II, Kailua began a real estate and development boom.
As the landscape became urbanized, flooding became a problem. There are reports of major flooding in this area in the years 1921 and 1940. In 1939, Congress instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a survey of the Marsh area and to assess its value as a flood control basin.
Kailua town as a whole suffered a severe flood in 1951 and 250-people were forced to evacuate their homes in the area. The Oneawa Channel (Kawainui Canal) was under construction in 1952 to prevent the major flooding of the Kailua residential area situated on the edge of the marsh. Subsequent severe floods occurred in 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1963.
Finally, the “permanent” stage of the Federal-State Kawainui Flood Control Project, first targeted for this area in the 1930s, was completed in 1966. This project entailed “dredging the debris and widening the Kawainui Canal, and building a 9-foot high levee to hold back storm water and widening the inner canal”.
However, from December 1968 through January 1969, as much as 8-inches of water covered a large area from Oneawa Street to Kihapai Street. The levee and Canal had eliminated direct overflow from the marsh, but flooding still occurred. (Drigot)
In 1988, floodwaters breached the levee. it was later modified by the Army Corps and City in 1997 raising its height and constructing a concrete floodwall to address the 100-year flood level estimated for Kawainui Marsh. (HHF)