Robert Henry Rycroft (April 27, 1843 – February 3, 1909) emigrated to the United States from Leeds, England, when he was 16 years old. After serving 16 months in the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War, he arrived in Honolulu.
He first went to work in the Honolulu Iron Works and afterwards went into the plumbing business, which was his profession. He was also proprietor of the Fountain restaurant and Temperance saloon on Fort Street in an old one story frame building
Failing in the restaurant and saloon business on Fort Street in Honolulu he went to Brisbane, Australia, to establish an ice works and was nearly successful in establishing his system on steamers to carry frozen mutton to Europe.
“(H)e erected an ice machine at Brisbane, which was the first ammonia machine there using a pump to compress the gas. After remaining, there about two years he returned to Honolulu and soon after removed to the Island of Hawaii in 1877.”
“There he went into the ‘awa shipping business. The trade in ‘awa at that time was so large that many tons were handled each year, much of it going to foreign ports, mostly to the United States, for medical purposes.”
“About the year 1881 Mr. Rycroft went into the cattle business, having purchased the Pohoiki and Keahialeka tracts in Puna, Hawaii, containing about nine thousand acres.”
“He also erected a large saw mill at Pohoiki and furnished the Government with all of the hard wood used in the public works. He also furnished the wood supply of Honolulu for several years by the Allen & Robinson line of schooners. The ties of the O. R. & L. Co. came from this mill.”
“Soon after things were running smoothly Mr. Rycroft again branched out and was one of the first, if not the very first, who went into the systematic cultivation of coffee, upon a large scale.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 9, 1900)
Rycroft launched a boom in coffee production during the late 19th century; between 1896 and 1906, most of the 300 land grants made to speculators were for coffee.
In the Puna District in 1880, Hawaiians maintained small-scale traditional farms, and other settlers invested in commercial properties like coffee plantations on approximately three dozen land grants. (ORNL)
He constructed a coffee mill in 1891 to process the coffee then being planted in Puna. However, for some unknown reason, the coffee boom ended in 1899, leaving the mill basically without a product to process. Then, probably, the Rycrofts had to find an alternate crop to process in the new coffee mill.
Presumably, then, the Rycroft guava business in Puna was started in about 1900 to use the coffee mill, and possibly was abandoned after 1910.
Rycroft and his son, Walter, should be credited with the first commercial production of guava at Pohoiki in Puna; they produced guava jam and jelly in the ‘coffee mill.’ (Shigemura & Bulloock)
Rycroft also funded improvements at Pohoiki Landing to support his commercial ventures, although the original landing was destroyed by a tsunami in August 1885. (DLNR)
The Pohoiki area has remained mostly undeveloped except for the 23-year period of commercial development under Robert Rycroft. Rycroft’s ventures between 1877 and 1899 included ‘awa, cattle, sawmill, coffee and guava. The Pohoiki commercial activity appears to have ended when Rycroft moved to Honolulu in 1899. (DLNR)
When he sold out in 1899 he had in lower Puna sixty-five acres and in Ola‘a 170 acres of bearing coffee. This venture, however, did not prove as profitable as most of Mr. Rycroft’s enterprises. Messrs. H. Hackfeld & Co purchased his Olaa property.
“Last year upon the formation of the Puna Sugar Co. an offer was made Mr. Rycroft for his 9,000 acres of land in lower Puna and he determined to sell out and remove to Honolulu.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 9, 1900)
Rycroft returned to Honolulu in 1899, starting the Fountain Soda Works. “Since coming to Honolulu Mr. Rycroft has purchased six lots in the old base ball ground, where he is now erecting a fine residence, which will be competed as rapidly as the work can be done.”
“Mr. Rycroft will go into business in Honolulu and will become a permanent resident. He has not as yet thoroughly settled upon his future plans, but will make his debut in business circles in the near future.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 9, 1900)
For some years his eldest son conducted the soda business (in the vicinity of what is now Rycroft Street) while Rycroft attended to his investments in general. (Hawaiian Star, February 3, 1909)
“Robert Rycroft, one of the oldest residents of the Hawaiian Islands, died of heart trouble early this morning at his home on Wilder avenue. He leaves a wife, three sons, Henry, Mark and Walter, and two daughters Sophia and Gladys. Mrs. Rycroft is a sister of AN Campbell, Treasurer of Hawaii, and was married to Mr. Rycroft in 1872.” (Hawaiian Star, February 3, 1909)