What started as a lumber company of Christopher H Lewers evolved into Lewers & Dickson, and eventually Lewers & Cooke. The primary parties in this process included Lewers, Robert Lewers (his cousin,) Joshua Gill Dickson and Charles Montague Cooke.
Christopher Hamilton Lewers, a cabinet maker hailing from Dublin, Ireland, landed in Honolulu in about 1850. In 1852, he started into the business in the Islands with the purchase at auction of a cargo of eastern white pine shipped from the States via Cape Horn.
The Honolulu carpenters at that time kept on hand small lots of white pine to make sash, doors, blinds, etc, which were made entirely by hand. Lewers’ purchase cornered the market on white pine, and he found it a profitable transaction and made it the basis for a regular lumber business.
At that time lumber, mostly Douglas fir, was sent to the Hawaiian Islands from the American West Coast by the Hudson Bay Co. This trade began about 1840, and in 1860 small vessels carrying approximately 300,000-feet of lumber came regularly to the islands to supply the trade. (American Lumberman)
In early 1854, the newspaper ‘The Polynesian’ first carried an advertisement for ‘S Johnson and Christopher H Lewers, House Carpenters and Joiners.’ Their projects would include the Fort Street Church, the Royal School, Queen’s Hospital and the Royal Hotel.
CH Lewers leased a ‘spacious old beer shop’ opposite the French Hotel from Mr Piʻikoi, announcing that he intended to import a steam saw mill and planing machine. (Walker-Moody)
Among other interests, Christopher H Lewers founded Waiheʻe sugar plantation on Maui. It the mid-1860s it was managed by Samuel Thomas Alexander. Henry Perrin Baldwin hoped to earn enough money to go to medical school, and took a ‘Luna’ (foreman) job.
Baldwin never got into medicine; in 1869, Baldwin and Alexander became business partners and bought 12 acres in Hāmākuapoko (an eastern Maui ahupuaʻa (land division.) (They later formed Alexander & Baldwin, one of Hawai‘i’s ‘Big Five’ companies.)
About 1855, CH Lewers sold out his lumber business and went to the eastern US for a visit, but returned to the islands the next year, accompanied by his two sisters and Robert Lewers, his cousin. CH Lewers bought the business back.
Robert Lewers was born in New York City, NY, on March 15, 1836; he was the son of William and Mary (Lowe) Lewers. Robert Lewers came to Honolulu on February 21, 1856 and started in Honolulu as a carpenter. (Siddall)
“He was (o)ne of the last survivors of those merchants who came to Honolulu in the days of her commercial infancy and aided in the upbuilding of the Islands, industrially and socially, Robert Lewers was a link for years between that glamorous early Hawaii with its monarchial pomp and court ceremony, and the thriving business community Hawaii became under American jurisdiction.” (Orr)
“There were not many occupations then open for a young man in Honolulu and Mr Lewers got employment as a carpenter. He helped to build many of the old frame houses in Honolulu, and one or two on Kauai.”
“It was his practical knowledge of building and of frame construction that made his services valuable, when, in 1860, he was offered a position by his cousin, Christopher H Lewers. The firm was later known as Lewers & Dickson.” (Orr)
“There was but little business done in those years; but shortly the sugar plantations were started on most of the islands, and these created a better market.”
“At that time our 1-inch boards of all widths were piled together, all mixed up, and those who have charge of lumber yards can easily realize how difficult and slow it was to get out an order.”
“The cartage of lumber in those days was done mostly with handcarts. Sometimes when we had a large quantity to deliver to a schooner we would hire a 2-wheeled dray, as there were no lumber wagons in town. We shoved the lumber up over the driver’s head, or he had to sit on top of it. Delivery was made more difficult by the very bad conditions of the roads.” (Lewers, American Lumberman)
Joshua Gill Dickson was born on August 2, 1830 in Charleston, Massachusetts, the son of Captain Joshua and Sarah Dickson. His father was “for many years well known as a very popular commander of several of the Boston and Liverpool packets, and later held the honorable office of warden of the port of Boston.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 27, 1888)
Charles Montague Cooke was born in Honolulu May 16, 1849, second of four sons of missionaries Amos Starr and Juliette Montague Cooke. The family home for more than a generation was at the Mission at Kawaiahaʻo. (The Friend)
His schooling as completed by a year or two at the Massachusetts Agricultural College; he returned to the Islands in 1871 and worked for Castle & Cooke, the company started by his father and Samuel Northrup Castle (another of Hawai‘i’s Big Five companies.)
Cooke later accepted an offer from Lewers & Dickson. In 1877, following the death of Christopher H Lewers, Robert Lewers and Cooke became partners of Dickson and continued the operation as Lewers and Dickson.
Dickson died July 11, 1880. Within a few months the surviving partners (Robert Lewers and Charles M Cooke) bought the interest of the Dickson Estate and launched the new firm of Lewers and Cooke, ‘the largest dealers in the Territory of Hawai‘i in Lumber and Building Materials.’
On January 1, 1901, Lewers & Cooke Ltd succeeded Lewers & Cooke. “A noteworthy fact in the establishment of the firm of Lewers & Cooke, Ltd., was the inclusion of a clause in the articles of incorporation empowering the directors to contribute a portion of the earnings for social, benevolent and religious purposes. It was the first time this had been done in Hawai‘i.” (Orr)