Kona’s first sugar plantation was started by Judge C. F. Hart in 1869; a small mill was erected and a dozen horses were used to pull the rollers. The plantation, which covered 50 acres, was unprofitable and soon abandoned. (Social History of Kona)
In 1899, Kona’s first and only sugar mill was built in Wai‘aha. Sugarcane was grown mauka of a railroad track that was built to support the mill. (Maly)
The Kona Sugar Co, was established for the purpose of cultivating sugar cane and manufacturing sugar and generally to carry on a sugar plantation and general agricultural business. (Hawaii Supreme Court)
In the early 1900s, the Kona Sugar Co, under the auspices of a number of affiliated companies, constructed a railway line from Wai‘aha, North Kona, to Keōpuka in South Kona. The railway was built at approximately the 700-foot elevation. The train that ran on this railroad was a 3 ft. wide narrow gauge. (Birnie, Maly) The railway was intended to run 30-miles.
“The Kona Sugar Company failed completely”. (Hawaii Supreme Court) In 1906, the West Hawaii Railway and the Kona Development Company were formed. “The Kona Development Company is a successor of the old Kona Sugar Company and will take over its property.” (Hawaiian Star, Apr 5, 1906)
“The Kona Development Co. has its prime field of operations in North Kona, and the Kona Agricultural Co. a corresponding relation to South Kona, the two being closely allied, while the railroad is primarily designed to connect them up and carry sugar cane from their respective plantations to the mill of the Kona Development Co which is situated in North Kona.”
“Seven miles of the track have been built, three miles more is under construction and it is proposed, from the proceeds of the bonds, to build an extension of twenty-two miles, making a total of thirty-two miles. As stated it will be a general public road and do a common carrying business as well as the transportation of cane for its owning companies.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Oct 30, 1907)
The railway ended up to be a total of about 11-miles. “they have a railroad track somewhere around – below Kainaliu. From just below Konawaena School, that’s quite a ways down, toward the ocean, they had the railroad. They used to haul the cane on the train to Holualoa. KD [Kona Development Company] Mill. They call KD Mill.”
“That’s where they crush the cane. But until then, they have a station built. They used to slide the cane – bundle up the cane with a chain – and then they slide through the cable, down to the train track.” (Yosoto Egami; Social History of Kona)
“The cane was cut in the fields. They had a cable wire from way up here or whatever field they had, reach down to the railroad. The railroad had cars. Up here, they bundle the cane, and they hook it on the wire with a roller. The wire had enough slope, so they grease that roller all the time. It went down fast. Then, it went down there [to the railroad]. Had a switch there.”
“The bundle of cane dropped right into the truck [railroad car], see? (And one man would pick up the rollers and take it back up to the field.) Then, the train hauled it back to the sugar mill to grind it. Oh, was quite a job.” (John DeGuair, Sr, Social History of Kona)
“Mr. Kondo was the owner of the railroad … In Kona, the sugar was transported to the railway by means of cables, cultivation took place mauka of the railway. Mr. Ide remembers hearing from Jack Greenwell, that Masao Kuga invented a trigger on the cable from which the sugar would fall when it reached its destination near the railway.” (Maly)
“Although the greater part of the work on the plantations of the [Islands] is done by Japanese, there is but one plantation in the Islands exclusively owned and managed by men of that race.”
“This is the Kona Development Company property which has about 2500 acres under cultivation in the Kona district. From an area of 1285 acres this plantation produced 3205 tons of sugar in 1919.”
“The plantation is managed by T. Konno, a Japanese who gained his knowledge of the sugar industry as a contract planter at Papaaloa on the Hilo coast of Hawaii. He, with a number of countrymen, organized a company and took over the property from J. B. Castle and associates in 1915.”
“The cane land of the Kona Development Company lies amidst fields of coffee for which the Kona district is most noted, industrially. The Kona Development Company, with lands cultivated by small farmers, gives employment to several hundred persons.”
“At the end of the last grinding season, the Kona Development Company began making some needed improvements in its mill. The old brick and stone foundations of the power room were removed and a new boiler was installed. The mill has a capacity for making 30 tons of sugar in 12 hours.”
“Arrangements have been made recently for the saving and marketing of all the molasses from the mill. To do this tanks, with a capacity of 100,000 gallons have been erected at the mill, which is situated just above Kailua. Previously the only use made of the molasses was its consumption for feed and fuel.”
“The Kona plantation is favored by the fertility of its soil which does not make replanting at the end of two or three crops necessary. The stools of the cane continue to bear for many years. Under the management of T Konno the planted area has increased 500 acres.”
“Throughout the district under cultivation the plantations operates a narrow gauge railway upon which the cane is hauled to the mill to be ground.”
“The Waterhouse Trust Company are the Honolulu agents of the Kona Development Company. The skilled employees are as follows: T. Uchimura, bookkeeper; T. Kudo, office Assistant; A.N. Smith, chemist; F. Sato, engineer; N. Tokunaga, sugar boiler; C. Suzuki, mill and railroad superintendent …”
“… D. Tatsuno, head luna; K. Sasaki, Kainaliu section timekeeper; T. Iseri, Holualoa section timekeeper; Manuel Silva & Frank Mederios, lunas; Henry deAguiar, Holualoa section luna; Y. Hatanaka, private secretary to T. Konno.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Centenary Number, April 12, 1920)
The Kona Development Mill quit operations on July 3, 1926. “As the concern has been bankrupt for some time, the 1927 crop had been entirely neglected”. (Hawaii Tribune Herald, June 25, 1926) The companies went into foreclosure and receivership and the assets were sold at public auction.
“Sugar cane, it is feared, is a thing of the past in Kona, and energies are next to be devoted to raising coffee and cotton more extensively.” (Hawaii Tribune Herald, June 25, 1926)
Then (1928), the Treasurer of the Territory of Hawaii issued notices of the intent to dissolve the Kona Development Company and West Hawaii Railroad Company. Shortly thereafter (1931), the County Engineer surveyed the abandoned West Hawaii railroad right-of-way for road purposes.
Today, Hienaloli Road follows the alignment of the West Hawaii Railway and remnants of the sugar mill may be seen along that road (as well as a stacked rock truss near Hualalai Road).