From 1899 to 1926, Hōlualoa was a sugar town; coffee was cut down to make way for fields of sugarcane, which surrounded Hōlualoa. The sugar plantation carried the region’s economy, and Holualoa became its commercial center.
Plantation camps sprang up near the mill and along the length of the railway. Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist churches were established to serve the multiethnic community.
Luther Aungst chose Hōlualoa as headquarters for the Kona Telephone Company, started in the 1890s. Using mules to drag telephone poles across lava flows, Aungst installed a line from Hilo to Ka‘u, and across Kona to North Kohala.
Dr Harvey Saburo Hayashi from Aomori-ken, Japan, one of Kona’s first full-time resident physicians and publisher of Kona’s first newspaper, the Kona Echo, lived there.
The Kona Sugar Company started in 1899 with ambitious plans to create a major sugar plantation in Kona. The company built Kona’s first sugar mill above Kailua Village in 1901.
The mill site was near Waiaha Steam. But water was not sufficient to properly process the cane; in 1903, the company went broke. Other investors tried to keep it alive, but the plantation failed in 1926.
Sugar’s collapse spelled economic ruin for many people. Coffee kept Hōlualoa alive, but just barely. Young people looking for employment left North Kona in droves, finding work in Honolulu or the mainland. (Kona Historical Society)
It was at this time (1926,) when Zentaro and Hatsuyo Inaba opened their 11-room Kona Hotel in 1926, they advertised “Rooms and Meals”.
The business was quickly a going concern in Hōlualoa town and initially catered to traveling businessmen like the Love’s Bakery salesman. They also welcomed the occasional tourist traveling from Hilo, via Volcano, in modified Packard ‘Sampan’ automobiles. (Pulama ia Kona)
“My father was Zentaro Inaba. That’s my stepfather. My mother was Hatsuyo Inaba. Her maiden name was Hatsuyo Miyamoto. Now, my real father, when I was very young, left for the Mainland.”
“And subsequent to that, my [step]father came to Kona and married my mother. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t know my real father. Ever since my childhood, my father was Zentaro Inaba.”
“I think they came here during the latter part of the 1890s. Mother came to Kona with my father – that is, Kitao – and my stepfather came from Pāpaʻikou to Kona. He was one of the contract laborers in Pāpaʻikou.”
“You know, those days, because of the pressures, because of the treatment that they had in the plantation under a contract system, he was dissatisfied. So, he actually ran away from his contract and came to Kona.”
“He used to tell me how he came to Kona. He travelled at night. He was afraid of being caught during the day. And from Pāpaʻikou to Kona, it took him three days to get to Kona.”
“He settled in Kona. As soon as he settled in Kona, he started working for the LS Aungsts – Luther Aungst’s family as a cook. He cooked for the family for 17 years, I think. I think it was about 17 years that he cooked for the Aungst family.”
Then, “they built that hotel – Kona Hotel – in 1926. So, they were running the hotel. … Father used to cook, and mother used to clean the rooms and so on. And they had a girl there that did the rooms. Mother did the laundry and things like that. And father did the cooking.”
“Who were the people who used to stay at the hotel? … Oh, most of them were salesmen … Travelling salesmen. Then, we’d have tourists come in once in a while. Because, at that time, the only hotels were the Kona Inn and Manago Hotel in Kona. And, of course, my folks’ hotel.” (Minuro Inaba, Social History)
“I guess his cooking ability was the reason they opened the hotel. The hotel food was western and Father was quite a cook. He always served soup which was well liked by the customers … beef soup.”
Zentaro and Hatsuyo’s son Goro and wife Yayoko continued the family tradition and today the historic Kona Hotel is still operated by the Inaba ‘ohana. (Pulama ia Kona)
By 1958, just over 1,000 people lived in Hōlualoa area. The construction of Kuakini Highway in the early-1950s reduced traffic through town even further.
Tourism and a coffee boom have brought new life to Hōlualoa. Eager entrepreneurs have transformed old garages and empty houses into galleries showcasing art of every description, some of it produced by artists who grew up in Hōlualoa.
Friendly family-run businesses such as Kimura’s Lauhala Shop, the Kona Hotel, and thrice-named Paul’s Place (formerly Tanimoto General Store in the 1890s, and later Morikami Store in the late 1920s) keep old Kona alive. (Kona Historical Society)
Ranchers herded their cattle to Kailua Bay where they were shipped out. This process involved lassoing the cattle and pulling them into the bay, where they were lashed onto the gunwales of waiting whaleboats and delivered to waiting ships. The last cattle were shipped out in 1956, when the deep harbor at Kawaihae supplanted the Kailua Harbor. (Kona Historical Society)
I fondly remember, as a kid in Kona, we occasionally got to go sheep hunting at Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a. A regular stop for us on the way home was to see the Inabas at Kona Hotel, where we left with them one of the sheep we shot.