Hawai’i Island was the birthplace and stronghold of Hawai’i’s ranching industry and paniolo (cowboy) culture. The first cattle were brought by Captain George Vancouver in 1793 and 1794 as a gift to Kamehameha I who turned them loose and placed a kapu (taboo) on their slaughter until 1830.
By that time, a dozen cattle had proliferated into a numerous and feral population, which was wreaking havoc on native ecosystems and seemed impossible to control.
Kamehameha III then sent an ambassador to Mexico to bring back some vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) to teach local people to ride horses, rope cattle, and tame wild cattle.
Between 1850 and 1900 many different breeds of cattle were imported throughout the Hawaiian Islands and large-scale ranching operations emerged, particularly on Hawai‘i Island – the chief industries elsewhere in the state were sugarcane and pineapple.
The entire ahupua‘a of Keauhou (at Volcano) was awarded to Victoria Kamāmalu, a granddaughter of Kamehameha I. Between 1866 and 1884, the ownership of Keauhou was successively inherited by members of the Kamehameha lineage upon the deaths of previous heirs until the death of Princess Bernice Pauahi.
At that time, her husband Charles Bishop established BP Bishop Estate to administer Keauhou and other properties in Pauahi’s inheritance. Congress purchased the lower portion of Keauhou from BP Bishop Estate and established Hawai‘i National Park in 1916.
In 1921, Bishop Estate leased other portions of Keauhou to May K and Arthur W Brown and they established Keauhou Ranch. In August 1937, the lease was transferred to the Brown heirs. In November 1937, William H Shipman, Ltd purchased the Brown heirs’ Keauhou Ranch lease as well as all animals, structures and land improvements on the property.
Herbert Cornelius Shipman sought the property as a safe retreat in case of a Japanese invasion for himself, his sisters and his father. He renamed it ‘Āinahou (new land) Ranch.
Herbert C Shipman was the only son of William Herbert Shipman, one of East Hawai‘i’s best known ranchers and businessmen. (Herbert Shipman took over the business after his father’s death in 1943.)
Herbert C Shipman was a locally renowned businessman, cattle rancher, wildlife conservationist, philanthropist, and descendant of one of the oldest missionary families in Hawai’i.
The ‘Āinahou Ranch is located within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, approximately four miles south and down slope from Kilauea Caldera, the world’s most active volcano.
Construction of the ‘Āinahou Ranch House began in 1940 and ended in July of the following year, just before the World War II broke out.
During and after the war, the ranch house was also used as a base of operations for ‘Āinahou Ranch, which supplied beef to military and domestic outlets. After World War II, the ranch supplied meat to Hilo outlets for approximately 20 years.
After the war, ‘Āinahou was used as his personal retreat and a place to entertain friends. An ‘Āinahou guest book contains the signatures of several hundreds of people who were invited by Shipman between 1945-1965.
Among his guest were actresses Joan Crawford and Janet Gaynor, Sir Peter Buck and well known Pacific archaeologists Kenneth Emory and Marian Kelly.
Over the years, elaborate gardens surrounded the ranch house. Shipman moved a surviving flock of nene (Hawaiian goose and State bird) from his coastal residence in Kea‘au to ‘Āinahou Ranch after a tsunami hit the Island of Hawai’i on April 1, 1946, devastating the local nene population. The ranch was used as a nene sanctuary.
Shipman is credited with the saving of the nene from the brink of extinction by initiating a controlled breeding program. At that
time, the total population of the species had been reduced to a few dozen birds.
In 1969, when Kilauea Volcano became active, threatening Shipman’s property, Shipman decided to evacuate all personnel, but left the nene.
In 1971-72, as the lava approached the property within 2/3 of a mile, an agreement was reached where Shipman received payment from the Park Service for the improvements, Bishop Estate terminated Shipman’s lease due to an imminent danger clause and sold the land fee simple to the National Park Service.
The property was purchased by the National Park Service under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, requiring that part of the land be set aside for activities related to preserving endangered species and a portion is currently being used to care for the nene.
Since the National Park Service acquired the property, the house has been used intermittently as a retreat, hostel for visiting work crews and overnight lodging for social groups.
Herbert, who never married, died childless in 1976. In accordance with his will, most of his assets went to establish a philanthropic foundation.