The 1880s was a period of rapid growth for the sugar industry, building upon the momentum triggered by the Māhele of 1848, the Kuleana Act of 1850, and the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875.
At that time, the island of Hawai’i had become the major sugar producer. Plantation statistics for the Hawaiian government in 1879 shows Hawai‘i with twenty-four plantations, Maui with thirteen, Kauai with seven, O‘ahu with seven, and Molokai with three – a total of fifty-four operations.
At the heart of this transformation was the plantation center. Unlike the commercial sugar mill, which drew on existing communities of Hawaiian workers, the plantation center represented a new clustering of population and technology.
Specifically, it was characterized by a sizable increase of foreign population, government recognition of the area as a vital economic region with distinct political needs, and by public and private investment in a shared physical infrastructure (e.g., stores, wharves, harbors) established specifically to trade with the West.
An important development in Hawai‘i’s history, the plantation center created new social institutions of dependency. The Hawaiian government also had a significant hand in the rise of plantation centers.
Five plantation centers changed the surrounding landscape and altered nearby Hawaiian communities. Plantations in Līhu‘e, Wailuku, Makawao, Hilo, and Kohala brought an invasion of agricultural practices, technologies, and repeopled the land with foreigners (from China, Portugal and Japan) and Hawaiians from other islands.
By 1880 there were two other regions – Hāmākua and Ka‘ū on Hawai‘i – that could be characterized as ‘centers.’ However, because the growth of these two districts came very late in the 1870s as a result of the Reciprocity Treaty, and they did not develop large-scale operations until well into the 1880s. (McClellan)
The sugar plantations furnished for free use of its houses for its employees. The houses were laid out in villages containing outdoor cookhouses, bathhouses, laundries, and running water. Free fuel was also supplied for cooking and heating water.
In case of illness, the plantation provided free medical care at its hospital. A Government school, Oriental school and several churches were located nearby. A store and dairy offered staple goods for sale. (HSPA)
Honoka‘a Sugar Plantation started in 1876 by two men (JFH Siemsen and J Marsden, who began with 500 acres. They planted the first crop in 1876 with the help of Hawaiian laborers and installed a 2-roll crusher mill. This small mill was the first one in the Hāmākua area. (HSPA)
At the beginning of the 20th century, the local sugar plantation management created a “Church Row” in Honokaʻa, that included the Roman Catholic Church, the Hongwanji Temple, the Shingon Temple and the Methodist Church. “Church Rows” proliferated in Honokaʻa, Waimea, and Pa’auilo. (NPS)
Honoka‘a’s main street, Māmane, was constructed in the 1870s. As sugar continued to grow in the region, Honoka‘a was the third largest town in the Territory. Between 1932 and 1958, the Territory of Hawai‘i began to construct a modern highway, called the Hawaii Belt Road (Route 19), around the island; it eventually bypassed Honoka‘a.
The Hāmākua Mill Company was first established in 1877 by Theo Davies and his partner Charles Notley, Sr. In 1878, the first sugarcane was planted at the plantation and Hilo Iron Works was hired to build a mill. The mill was located at Paʻauilo.
By 1910, it had 4,800-acres planted in sugarcane and employed more than 600 people. The company ran three locomotives on nine miles of light gauge rail. There was a warehouse and landing below the cliff at Koholālole where ships were loaded by crane.
For most plantations most of the working force was Hawaiian. As the Companies grew people from various parts of the world came in this order: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans and Filipinos. (A few Russians and Spaniards also worked at Honokaa for brief periods.)
“The Hawaiian island that drew the most Scots was the Big Island of Hawaii. Some Scots undoubtedly found pleasure in settling in the island’s Waimea-Kohala area because its cool, misty upland climate reminded them of their own misty isles.” (LA Times)
“Unlike other large ethnic groups, the Scots never came in large groups or by the shipload. And in a society where ethnicity was easily identified, the Scots were simply part of the ‘haoles’”. (Orange County Register)
“The Scots came for various reasons. Some came for the pleasure of Hawaii. Others followed kinsmen already in Hawaii when economic conditions became poor in Scotland.”
“The Scottish emigrants came mostly from rural areas of Scotland and settled in country areas of Hawaii, particularly on the sugar plantations.”
“Eventually, so many Scots settled on the plantations along the Hamakua Coast that the area became known as the ‘Scotch Coast.’”
“On Saturday nights the Scots came into Hilo, the island’s main city, and congregated at the end of the railroad line at the corner of Kamehameha Street and Waianuenue Avenue. It was eventually known as the ‘Scotsmen’s corner.’” (LA Times)
“A period of intense emigration was 1880 to 1930, when many of the Scots on the island sent back to Scotland for friends and relatives.” (LA Times) “On the plantations the Scots worked quickly into managerial positions.” (Orange Coast Register)
Claus Spreckels, a sugar man most associated with cultivation/production on the central plains on Maui, started the Hakalau Plantation Company in 1878, just down the coast of Hāmākua.
The Hāmākua Ditch (actually the Upper Ditch and Lower Ditch) was completed in January 1907 (Upper) and July 1910 (Lower). These brought mountain water from the large watershed and permanent streams of the Kohala mountains to the Hāmākua area.
In the early days, sugarcane was hauled to the railroad or to the mill by means of mule & horse-drawn wagons. The greatest use of the water from the Hāmākua Ditch was for fluming of harvested cane for transporting cane from the hillsides to railroad cars. (HSPA)
But it wasn’t just sugar that changed the Hāmākua landscape; Macadamia seeds were first imported into Hawaiʻi in 1882 by William Purvis; he planted them in Kapulena on the Hāmākua Coast. (Purvis is also notable for importing the mongoose in 1883 – to rid his Hāmākua sugar plantation of rats.)
The Macadamia Nut is Australia’s only native plant to have become an international food. Although an Australian native, the macadamia nut industry was started in Hawaiʻi (Australian farmers did not take advantage of the tree until 1950.)
Macadamia nut candies became commercially available a few years later. Two well-known confectioners, Ellen Dye Candies and the Alexander Young Hotel candy shop, began making and selling chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in the middle or late 1930s. Another early maker was Hawaiian Candies & Nuts Ltd., established in 1939 and originators of the Menehune Mac brand. (Schmitt)
In 1917, the Hāmākua Mill Company was renamed the Hāmākua Sugar Company. The Kaiwiki Sugar Company was merged with the Theo H Davies Company-owned Laupāhoehoe Sugar Company on May 1, 1956 and operations were merged with the latter beginning January 3. 1957.
In 1978, the Hāmākua Sugar Company, Honokaʻa Sugar Company and the Laupāhoehoe Sugar Company were merged to form the Davies Hāmākua Sugar Company.
In 1984 the Davies Hāmākua Sugar Company was bought by Francis Morgan and renamed the Hāmākua Sugar Company (1984-1994). The Hāmākua Sugar Company operated until October of 1994, and its closing marked the end of the sugar industry at Hāmākua, as well as the Island of Hawaiʻi.