For at least 40,000 years, Australian Aborigines have lived in macadamia heartland. As hunters and gatherers, they had an intimate understanding of their environment.
The wild macadamias usually grew in dense rainforests, with competition from other trees and absence of light resulting in their producing few nuts.
However, trees growing at the edge of the rainforest or where the Aborigines had encouraged them by burning around each tree generally produced annual crops.
Macadamia nuts were a treasured food but a very minor part of the Aboriginal diet due to their rarity. (McConachie)
In 1828, Alan Cunningham (explorer and botanist) was the first Western person to record the macadamia. Other names for Macadamia Nuts are Bush nut, Queensland nut, Queen of nuts, Macadamia, Bauple nut, Boombera, Jindilli and Gyndl.
In 1857, German-Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller gave the genus of this plant the scientific name Macadamia – named after von Mueller’s friend Dr John Macadam (although, allegedly, Macadam had not seen a macadamia nut tree, or even tasted the macadamia nut.)
Macadamia seeds were first imported into Hawaiʻi in 1882 by William Purvis; he planted them in Kapulena on the Hāmākua Coast. A second introduction into Hawaii was made in 1892 by Robert and Edward Jordan who planted the trees at the former’s home in Nuʻuanu Honolulu. (Storey)
“Brought in ‘solely as an addition to the natural beauty of Paradise’ (Hawaiian Annual, 1940,) it was not until ES (Ernest Sheldon) Van Tassel started some plantings at Nutridge in 1921 that the commercial growing of the plant began. On June 1, 1922, the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company Ltd. was formed.” (NPS)
The Van Tassel plantings were at ʻUalakaʻa on a grassy hillside of former pasture land. Mo‘olelo (Hawaiian stories) indicate that Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a was a favored locality for sweet potato cultivation and King Kamehameha I established his personal sweet potato plantation here.
‘Pu‘u translates as “hill” and ‘ualaka‘a means “rolling sweet potato”, so named for the steepness of the terrain. (It’s above Makiki and also called Round Top.) Within the valley is a quarry where the basalt outcrop was chipped into pieces to make octopus lures. That is believed to be the origin of the word ‘makiki’ – a type of stone used for weights in octopus lures.
Historical attempts at cultivation in the Makiki-Tantalus area included a coffee plantation by JM Herring along Moleka Stream in the late-1800s (valley conditions proved too wet for coffee beans to flourish) and Hawai‘i’s first commercial macadamia nut plantation along the west side of Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a.
“Van Tassel, President of the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Company, Ltd, became interested in the possibilities of this nut for creating a new industry and had so much faith in its future that he organized in 1922 the present company for the purpose of commercial production and has been its guiding spirit ever since.” (Mid-Pacific, October 1933)
“At the present time, the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company has about 7,000 trees in its groves at Keauhou, Kona District, Hawaii, which are now coming into profitable bearing. The company has also approximately 2,000 trees growing and producing in the Nutridge grove on Round Top, Honolulu, or a total of 9,000 trees.” (Mid-Pacific, October 1933)
Nutridge was the name for Van Tassel’s home and grove. In 1925, Mr. Van Tassel commissioned architect Hart Wood to design his residence at Nutridge.
Wood was at the forefront of the movement to create a style of architecture in Hawaii which would appropriately reflect a sense of place.
One story high, the house is essentially devoid of ornate embellishment and follows an extremely original layout with the lanai (porch) serving in the capacity of a hallway, providing direct access to the bedrooms. Such an arrangement accentuates the sense of outdoor living.
Also by placing the rooms in a serial manner, the architect provided each room with cross-ventilation taking advantage of the trade winds. The dwelling’s double-pitched hipped roof would become a common feature in the evolving ‘Hawaiian style’ of architecture, and adds to the building’s low profile. (NPS)
In order to stimulate interest in macadamia culture, beginning January 1, 1927, a Territorial law exempted properties in the Territory, used solely for the culture or production of macadamia nuts, from taxation for a period of 5 years.
That year, the Territory granted Van Tassel a 50-lease on Nutridge. By 1934, there were about 25-acres planted on Tantalus. (CTAHR)
Commercial processing of macadamia nuts began in 1934 at Van Tassel’s new factory in Kaka‘ako. The nuts were shelled, roasted, salted, bottled and marketed there as “Van’s Macadamia Nuts.” (Schmitt)
Nuts went from the farm on Round Top down through the flumes into trucks to his processing warehouse in Kakaʻako, where they were then sold. This plantation remained in operation until the 1970s and discontinued when the Honolulu processing plant suspended operations. (NPS)
In its heyday, celebrities such as Clark Gable, Carlo Lombard, Frank Sinatra and Dina Merrill visited and stayed at the Nutridge House.
The macadamia nut trees and the remnants of the historic flume system used to collect and transport the nuts remain on the slopes of ‘Ualakaʻa today. In 1981, the house was nominated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Hawaii State Park System, Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Wayside in Tantalus.
For approximately 30-years, the historic house has been cared for and occupied under a permit by Rick Ralston, the founder and former owner of retail icon Crazy Shirts.
Ralston invested significant sums of money and devoted considerable time and energy in meticulously restoring the historic house which might have otherwise been lost due to years of neglect. The house had been quietly maintained and used as a residence. (DLNR)
Recently (2013,) DLNR issued a revocable permit to Discovering Hidden Hawaiʻi Tours, Inc for commercial events at the Nutridge property, including luaus (‘The Big Kahuna Luau’) and other similar events, tours and special, small scale events and non-profit and community use purposes.