In ancient Hawaiʻi, there were no “towns,” “villages” or “cities,” in the modern context. Around the 1400-1500s, the land was broken down into ahupuaʻa, ʻili and other physical subdivisions.
All of the land was owned by the ruling chief. Each ahupuaʻa in turn was ruled by a lower chief, or aliʻi ʻai. He, in turn, appointed an overseer, or konohiki. (The common people never owned or ruled land.)
A typical ahupuaʻa (what we generally refer to as watersheds, today) was a long strip of land, narrow at its mountain summit top and becoming wider as it ran down a valley into the sea to the outer edge of the reef. If there was no reef then the sea boundary would be about one and a half miles from the shore.
Each ahupuaʻa had its own name and boundary lines. Often the markers were natural features such as a large rock or a line of trees or even the home of a certain bird. A valley ahupuaʻa usually used its ridges and peaks as boundaries.
An ahupuaʻa in South Kohala on the Island of Hawaiʻi is Waimea (reddish water (as from erosion of red soil.)) Over time, the growing community concentrated at a cross-road at the lower slopes of the Kohala Mountains – that town was referred to as Waimea.
The Territory, officially through the US Board of Geographic Names, in 1914, agreed to name the community “Waimea” (and further noted it as a “village.”) Later, in 1954, they revised the name to simply Waimea (and dropped the village reference.)
While there are several other “Waimea” communities in the islands, and folks don’t seem to get confused with the name, the naming of the Post Office in Waimea was different.
On July 16 1832, Missionary Lorenzo Lyons (Makua Laiana) replaced Reverend Dwight Baldwin as minister at Waimea, Hawai‘i. Lyons’ “Church Field” was centered in Waimea, at what is now the historic church ‘Imiola.
He was known in the town as the man who carried out many functions. In October, 1854 Father Lyons became the first official Postmaster of Waimea, a post he held until he was very old. The Honolulu Directory of 1884 listed him as pastor of ʻImiola Church, postmaster, school agent and government physician.
In the early 1830s it took one year or more for mail to reach Waimea from the continent, coming by way of Cape Horn. When the transcontinental railroad was built, it took about a month for mail to reach Waimea.
Prior to 1854 there was no regular mail service on the Islands. Letters were forwarded by chance opportunities. Father Lyons described the first official shipment of mail that he handled, a small bag, sealed with wax, and containing a few letters. This first mail shipment had been carried from Hilo to Waimea.
Over the years, the communities across the state grew. With that, some uncertainty over postal facility names apparently created some confusion. In addition to the Waimea postal station in South Kohala, there was another “Waimea” post office on Kauai.
At the time, Waimea, Kauai was a larger community. To avoid confusion, on November 8, 1900, the Waimea, Hawaii Island Post Office was changed to Kamuela Post Office. (USPS Daily Bulletin, January 9, 1901) The Postmaster was Elizabeth W. Lyons, daughter of Lorenzo Lyons.
There are a couple stories about where the “Kamuela” (Samuel) name came from.
Some incorrectly suggest it was named after Samuel M Spencer (suggesting he was a Postmaster for the facility – however, there are no records that indicate he ever held that position.)
Samuel Spencer was, however, a prominent member of the community and member of the Hawaii Island Board of Supervisors serving at its Chair (equivalent to the present position of Mayor, from 1924-1944; the island’s longest serving.)
The Spencer story was told that when mail sorters in Honolulu were dividing the mail, they would “send it to Kamuela” (calling him by name, suggesting he would receive and deliver it.) Since he apparently was never with the postal service, this story doesn’t seem plausible.
Spencer was politically prominent almost 25-years after the Post Office name change. Likewise, there are no known references to Sam Spencer using “Kamuela” as his moniker. And, acknowledgment to him was made in the naming of a coastal beach park – Samuel M Spencer Beach Park (with no Kamuela reference.) That park was renamed “Spencer Park at ʻŌhaiʻula Beach,” in 2003.
What seems plausible (and is supported by documentation within the records of the US Board of Geographic Names) is the story that the Kamuela Post Office was named for Samuel “Kamuela” Parker, grandson of John Parker (founder of the Parker Ranch.)
In 1868, when his grandfather died, Samuel (at the age of 15) inherited half the Parker Ranch, with his uncle John Palmer Parker II (1827–1891) inheriting the other half. Samuel was attending Punahou School on Oʻahu at the time.
In 1883, Parker took his first political role when he became a member of the Privy Council of King Kalākua. He was appointed to the House of Nobles in the legislature from 1886 to 1890.
In early-1891, Kalākaua died and Queen Liliʻuokalani became the new ruler; Parker was appointed to be her Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Samuel Parker was notably successful well before the Post Office name change.)
While I previously bought into the “send it to Kamuela” scenario, it’s clear to me now that Kamuela Post Office was named after Samuel Parker, grandson of John Parker and prominent Waimea and Hawaiʻi citizen.
A sad side story: Samuel’s daughters, Helen and Eva Parker, were friends of Princess Kaʻiulani, and, sadly, riding horseback in a rainstorm on Parker Ranch led to her illness and untimely death a few months later.
An interesting postal side story: Postal Service to Kamuela Post Office was discontinued on March 5, 1908 and mail was rerouted to Kukuihaele. (USPS Daily Bulletin, March 5, 1908)
On May 9, 1908, the order was modified and mail was rerouted to Kawaihae, instead of Kukuihaele. ((USPS Daily Bulletin, May 9, 1908) Post services were reestablished at Kamuela Post Office on June 9, 1909. (USPS Daily Bulletin, August 6, 1909)
It turns out a former postmaster and his nephew (Moses Koki and Joshua Koki, respectively) were charged with the embezzlement of post office funds from the Kamuela post office. (The Hawaiian Star, March 18, 1908)
Remember, it’s the Post Office that is called “Kamuela;” the region and town have long been and continue to be known as “Waimea.”