On July 8, 1861 184,298 acres of Kahuku, the entire ahupua‘a was assigned by King Kamehameha IV to Charles Coffin Harris under Patent 2791 for $3,000. As with most grants it recognized the “ancient boundaries” and reserved “the rights of native tenants.”
Harris, a graduate of Harvard learned the Hawaiian language and set up a law practice in Hawai`i. His service to the kingdom included Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hawai`i’s first Attorney General, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and then Chief Justice, 1877-1881, police magistrate and legislative member.
Kalākaua studied law under Harris at the age of 17 making it no surprise Harris became the King’s adviser. While no record of Harris’ activities in Kahuku could be found the land may not have been used for ranching until the next owner. (Helen Wong Smith)
Ownership of Kahuku Ranch transferred from Harris to Theophilus Brown of Groton Connecticut on April 3, 1866 for the price of $5,250. Theophilus’ brother Captain Robert Brown operated the Ranch bringing his family with him.
A visitor to the ranch during these years was Mrs. Alura Brown Cutler wrote the ranch had miles of stone walls enclosing gardens, cattle yards, calf pasture, goat and pig pens.
The gardens contained fig and peach trees as well as bananas and mulberries. She reported the house was located seven miles from the sea and five stone houses for families working for the ranch were provided. (Helen Wong Smith)
Then, “On Friday, March 27, 1868, at 5:30 a.m., several whaling ships anchored in Kawaihae Harbor noticed a dense column of fume reflected by a bright light southwest of the summit of Mauna Loa.”
“An eruption near Moku`āweoweo had taken place, lasting several hours before subsiding. Pele’s hair had drifted down upon the residents of Ka‘ū and South Kona, indicating the presence of lava fountains above. (HVO; Helen Wong Smith)
“This was the scene that opened before us as we ascended the ridge on Friday (April 10, 1868). At the left were these four grand fountains playing with terrific fury, throwing blood-red lava and huge stones, some as large as a house, to £ varying from 500 to 1,000 feet.”
“The grandeur of this scene, ever changing like a moving panorama, no one who has not seen it can realize. Then there was the rapid, rolling stream, rushing and tumbling like a swollen river, down the hill, over the precipice and down the valley to the sea, surging and roaring like a cataract, with a fury perfectly indescribable.”
“This river of fire varied from 200 to 800 feet in width, and when it is known that the descent was 2,000 feet in five miles, the statement that it ran at the rate of ten to twenty-five miles an hour will not be doubted.”
“We waited till night, when the scene was a hundred fold more grand and vivid. The crimson red of the lava now doubly bright, the lurid glare of the red smoke-clouds that overhung the whole, …”
“… the roaring of the rushing stream, the noise of the tumbling rocks thrown out of the crater, the flashes of electric lightning, and the sharp quick claps of thunder – altogether made the scene surpassingly grand.” (HM Whitney, editor of the Honolulu Advertiser, April 13, 1868)
“The 1868 flow destroyed the house of Capt. Robert Brown …. The flow advanced so quickly on the house that Captain Brown and his family escaped with only the clothes on their backs.”
“Soon after the eruption, Theophilus sold the ranch to a hui (group) that included George Jones, who bought out his partners’ interests to became sole owner in 1877.”
“Another Mauna Loa eruption in 1887 produced an ‘a‘ā flow to the west of the 1868 eruption. From vent to ocean, the flow advanced 24 km (15 mi) in about 29 hours and came close – but did not damage – Jones’ residential compound.”
“The real impact of the 1887 eruption on Jones’ ranch was the flow of sightseers. George was known as a very hospitable man and, for several weeks, was forced to suspend operations in order to accommodate the hordes of curious visitors.”
“About a year-and-a-half after the 1887 eruption, Jones sold the ranch to Col. Samuel Norris. Norris, described as eccentric and peculiar, was not hospitable to his fellow Caucasians.”
“Another Mauna Loa eruption in 1907 produced lava flows to the west of the 1887 and 1868 flows, further reducing pasture lands. Tourists flocking to the new flows were not welcomed by the new ranch owner.”
“Norris was 66 when he bought the ranch. In 1910, when he realized he was dying, Norris essentially gave away the ranch, “selling” it to his long-time friend, Charles Macomber, for a dollar, complaining that lava flows had devalued the property. Norris died a few months later.”
“The upper reaches of the ranch were overrun by lava in 1903, 1916, and 1926 but these eruptions did not precipitate a sale as the earlier ones had.“
“In 1912, Macomber sold the ranch to A.W. Carter for inclusion in the famed Parker Ranch.” “During this ownership 1,200 head of cattle were largely run on the land nearest the highway, marginally using the land above the 1,400 foot elevation”
“On February 6, 1947 Parker Ranch sold Kahuku to James W Glover founder of the general construction firm bearing his name …. During his ownership Glover planted koa for logging and continued the installation of smooth wire fencing.”
“After Glover’s death, the ranch was sold under court order by the Hawaiian Trust company, the executor of his estate to pay estate debts including inheritance taxes amounting to almost a million dollars. The trustees of the Samuel M. Damon Estate made the winning bid in 1958”. (HVO; Helen Wong Smith)
On July 3, 2003, the National Park Service partnered with the Nature Conservancy to purchase the 116,000-acre Kahuku Ranch from the estate of Samuel Mills Damon as an addition to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, increasing the size of the park by 50% to 333,086 acres. (Vacation and event rentals remain for remnants of the former Kahuku Ranch, makai of the highway)
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Vernal Stevens says
Was the ranch managed by a paniolo by the name of John Pipa in 1946?
Thank you so much for your thoughtful commentary. I really enjoy reading your blog!
I read this post and wondered where your information about Kahuku came from. Kalakaua was King from 1874-1891, so I don’t think he could have been the the monarch who granted Charles Coffin Harris the ahupuaa of Kahuku. Do you have any further information?
Peter T Young says
Sorry – thanks for calling attention to that. I have corrected the text to note that King Kamehameha IV issued the Royal Patent.
Wendy Scott-Vance says
Again, I so enjoy your posts! I am trying to find information about Samuel Norris, the owner of Kahuku Ranch after George Jones. Can you direst me to some sources?
Kammy Yuen says
Thank you for stating that Kahuku Ranch was sold by Colonel Norris to Charles Gardner Macomber for a dollar(“Hawaiian style”- a dollar and love) . I am a descendant of the Macomber family in Hawaii ( he was my great great granduncle). While researching family genealogy I found articles in Hawaiian newspapers (Chronicling America in the Library of Congress) pertaining to this ranch and a lawsuit challenging Macomber’s ownership from a former fiancée of Colonel Norris.
It was also stated in one of those articles that Colonel Norris was approached by other potential buyers for the ranch but declined their offers and said he would rather give it away than sell to another Caucasian because they already “took” enough Hawaiian Land. Charles Macomber was half Hawaiian and a descendent of
Kekuhaupio . Just a little bit of trivia that I wanted to share with you. Again mahalo