“The marketing of a quantity of koa lumber will prove a noteworthy event in the history of our exports, it is to be regretted that so little is known on the mainland of the commercial woods of these islands.”
“A complete collection of Hawaiian economic woods, is greatly to be desired. In many cases the beauty of their texture is only equalled by their possibilities of utility.”
“Not only are hard woods of beautiful grain, capable of retaining a splendid polish, well represented in Hawaii, but also others whose peculiar properties would make them valuable tor special purposes. Notable among the latter is the wood of the wili-wili tree, whose extreme lightness will no doubt some day find an economic application.”
The ‘ōhi‘a forms the major part of the forest in South Kona and in many places the trees attain good height and fairly large diameter. The ‘ōhia forest extends up to an elevation of about 4,000 feet.
“Above that the character of the forest changes, the ‘ōhi‘a being replaced by koa in fairly pure stand, with less undergrowth. The koa occurs in groves more or less connected, rather than as a dense forest cover.”
The upper part is much rougher than that lower down, but nevertheless there are many pockets and little islands of good soil in the lava in which the koa develops well and reaches good size. Where the soil is scant the trees are short and spreading. (Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturalist, 1905)
Between 1906 and 1919, Papa Koa Lumber Company, owned by Cristel Bolte, was the major supplier of koa lumber for Hawai‘i and the US. (Jenkins)
Bolte was a German national who became a naturalized Hawaiian subject. He was a merchant in the corporation of Grinbanm & Co. and was connected with the Planters’ Labor and Supply Association and a sugar shareholder; “There is hardly any person of property in this country who is not an owner of some sugar stocks.”
Bolte leased about 600-acres of koa forest lands in Papa, South Kona, and in 1906 he negotiated a contract to supply koa logs to the American-Hawaiian Mahogany Company in Petaluma, California. He shipped 30,000 feet of unsawed logs to the American-Hawaiian Mahogany Company in the first year of operation.
In 1909, Bolte purchased sawmill equipment on the mainland and entered into a partnership with EH Cant to harvest ‘ōhi‘a in Pahoa. Cant and Bolte, Ltd. had picked up part of the Santa Fe Railroad contract that the Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company had. but lost.
By 1914, the once large market for ‘ōhi‘a in the US had all but disappeared and by 1915 Bolte consolidated his lumber business back at Papa, South Kona, now on approximately 1,200 acres.
He added a band saw and forty-two-inch circular saw used for sawing the logs. There was also a machine shop, a complete woodworking shop, a manager’s home, and six to ten workers’ cottages on the site. It was a modern sawmill, employing whatever machinery was practical in the rugged, steep terrain.
Two old lumber wagons with ‘wood wheels’ were also used for hauling lumber down to the Ho‘opuloa Village landing for shipment
Transporting the lumber to the shipping point was as difficult and costly as it had been 100 years earlier. The tortuous roads over the rugged lava were essentially wagon trails, and the lumber vehicles were in constant need of repair.
The company was a major supplier of koa lumber to Honolulu’s largest koa furniture manufacturer, Fong Inn Company. The Papa Koa Lumber Company was in fact the main source of all commercial koa lumber during that time.
Bolte died in April 1919 at the age sixty-five; two of his sons, Ernest and Fred, continued the business as Bolte Brothers Sawmills. In September 1919, only five months after Bolte’s death, Mauna Loa volcano erupted, destroying much of the company’s forest lands, but stopped short of the sawmill.
The lava continued around and past the mill, destroying more forest lands on its way to the sea. The Bolte Brothers continued for two more years, until May 1921 when the Security Trust Company foreclosed on a loan made the year before.
In September, the sawmill and land were sold to neighboring landowner CQ Yee Hop, who also took the name of the defunct Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company. The new company then became the major supplier of koa lumber in the territory. (Lots of information here is from Jenkins, Daughters of Hawaii.)
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This is a great story. In the 1960s, Millard A Blair (Blair LTD Honolulu) operated two saw mills, one just out of Kona and the other South o Kona. A saw mill was in operation near Hilo at that time. Wish I had photos of all these mills!