Toward the end of WWI a unique opportunity presented itself for a major homesteading experiment in Hawai‘i. A number of the long-term, thirty-year leases written during the closing years of King Kalākaua’s reign (1874-1891) were due to expire.
In anticipation of the expiration of these leases, and in keeping with the public land policies of President Wilson’s administration, preparations were undertaken for a large-scale homesteading experiment.
On June 1, 1918, shortly after Governor McCarthy took office, a lease of public land held by the Waiākea Mill Company on 7,261 acres of sugar cane land expired.
The Waiākea plantation had been one of the most profitable sugar corporations in the Islands from its inception until 1918, and there was every promise that homesteading could be successfully undertaken on a portion of the plantation’s land.
In March, 1919, and subsequently in February, 1921, a total of 216 lots in the Waiākea homestead tract were carved out of the plantation’s acreage and were conveyed to individuals under the terms of special homestead agreements.
These lots incorporated an area of 7,261 acres, of which approximately 6,300 acres, or 88 per cent, consisted of cane land. The balance of the acreage was a mixture of various kinds of land, some of which was suitable for other agricultural pursuits. The total appraised value of the land was more than half a million dollars. (LRB)
Applications for homestead lots in the Waiākea tract numbered over 2,000, far more than the number of lots available. To meet this problem, it was determined the homesteads would be awarded by a lottery …”
However, “without reference to whether the prospective homesteaders had any experience in farming, or any of the other qualifications that might have contributed to successful homesteading.”
“Nor did the territorial government plan to assist the homesteaders by providing trained agricultural agents, such as the county extension agents found on the mainland United States; neither did it assist the homesteaders with adequate roads or marketing facilities.”
“In short, virtually nothing was done to create conditions that would contribute to the success of this unique experiment in homesteading.”
“The inevitable outcome, of course, was that the Waiākea homesteading project was an immediate and overwhelming failure.”
“The majority of the Waiākea homesteaders’, unlike its pioneer American prototype, had no intention of tilling the soil. The recollection still lingers in many minds of “Waiākea No.1.” His intentions have been of the best but his agricultural background and qualifications were woefully lacking.”
“Forty percent of these homesteaders forfeited their land through failure to make their payments when due or for other breach of covenant.”
“Sixty percent, either directly or through their successors in interest, were strong enough, many as a result of legislative relief measures, to hold their lots and secure patents.”
“But forfeited or not, we find today nearly ninety percent of the original cane land again in the hands of Waiākea Mill Co. (5537 acres) for the production of sugar, partly as a result of direct leases with the Territory of forfeited lots and partly by direct lease agreements with the owners of the patented lots or lots still held for patent.” (LRB)
“What is considered by the territorial government and the Waiākea Mill Co. to be the only logical solution, under existing conditions, of the acute Waiākea homestead problem, was reached at a conference with Governor Wallace R. Farrington …”
“The Waiākea Mill Co. has agreed to take over the cultivation of the entire area of the Second Series Homesteads of the Waiākea tract, and to cancel all existing contracts with those homesteaders who desire to enter into the new agreement as now proposed.”
“Taking over of the homestead lands by the mill company will relieve the homesteaders of all responsibility with regard to cultivation, fertilization, harvesting, hauling, milling and care of stools.” (Louisiana Planter, 1922)
“The short-term results of the Waiākea experiment, then, were the ruin of many homesteaders, temporary disruption of the efficient functioning of a great and prosperous plantation, which suffered continued, substantial, financial losses until it was able to recapture most of its lost land, and a permanent loss of tax revenue to the territorial government.”
“In an effort to persuade him to resign as governor before the end of his term, some business leaders offered McCarthy an attractive position as general manager of the Hawaiian Dredging Company, even as others fulminated against his policies. He accepted the position, and Wallace Rider Farrington, a Republican, was appointed to succeed him as governor in 1921.” (LRB)