Heʻeia is one of nine ahupuaʻa of Kāneʻohe Bay (this makes up most of the Koʻolaupoko moku (district.)) In early times, the land was intensely cultivated and fish ponds lined the Bay (30 walled fishponds were noted in the Bay in 1882 – including the two largest (Heʻeia and Moliʻi) fishponds remaining in Hawaiʻi.)
“Southeastward along the windward coast, beginning with Waikāne and continuing through Waiāhole, Kaʻalaea, Kahaluʻu, Heʻeia and Kāne’ohe, were broad valley bottoms and flatlands between the mountains and the sea which, taken all together, represent the most extensive wet-taro area on Oʻahu.” (Handy, Devaney)
As early as 1789, Portlock described this area: “Indeed, I had some reason to think, that the inhabitants on that part of the island were more numerous than in King George’s Bay (Maunalua Bay)”.
“… the bay all around has a very beautiful appearance, the low land and valleys being in high state of cultivation, and crowded with plantations of taro, sweet potatoes, sugar-cane, etc. interspersed with a great number of coconut trees”.
The open waters of the bay were also probably heavily fished within the limitations of the kapu system, and fishing rights were allocated as part of the respective ahupua’a. (Coles)
Chief Abner Paki (father of Bernice Pauahi Bishop and hānai father of Queen Liliʻuokalani) was granted the land of Heʻeia in 1848, apparently in recognition of allegiance to the Kamehameha Dynasty and also for a longer ancestral family interest in this land. Kelly reports that some of Paki’s ancestors can be traced to a Maui line of chiefs that had conquered Kahahana, the ruling chief of O‘ahu about 1785.
Apparently, one of Paki’s uncles was charged with managing Heʻeia under the Maui rulership. Kelly suggests: “At least part of Paki’s connection with the land of Heʻeia may stem from his uncle’s earlier residence in that land, and may have been the reason why Paki was made konohiki of Heʻeia.” (Carson)
Sugarcane was introduced to Koʻolaupoko in 1865, when the Kingdom’s minister of finance and foreign affairs, Charles Coffin Harris, partnered with Queen Kalama to begin an operation known as the Kāneʻohe Sugar Company. (History of Koʻolaupoko)
By 1865, four plantations were in production, at Kualoa, Kaʻalaea, Waiheʻe and Kāneʻohe, and in the early 1880s, four more at Heʻeia, Kāneʻohe, Kahaluʻu and Ahuimanu, with a total of over 1,000-acres in cultivation in 1880. (Coles)
McKeague’s Sugar Plantation was in Heʻeia; starting in 1869, John McKeague (from Coleraine near Belfast, Ireland – February 12, 1832 – January 25, 1899) leased the Heʻeia ahupuaʻa from Charles and Bernice Pauahi Bishop – he had a partner, his uncle, Dr Alexander Kennedy.
About a decade later, McKeague added a mill and other improvements. (The Plantation was also known as Heʻeia Sugar Company, as well as Heʻeia Agricultural Company.)
“Mr John McKeague, the proprietor of the Heʻeia Sugar Plantation at Koʻolaupoko, Oʻahu, has completed the erection of an entire new mill and buildings, and on Wednesday last, he very hospitably entertained a large party of his friends and acquaintances, on the occasion of firing up and setting to motion the machinery of his new plant.”
“Mr Young, the manager of the Honolulu Iron Works (by whom the machinery was built,) and several other practical engineers were present, and everybody, including Mr McKeague himself, pronounced the running of the works as perfectly satisfactory.”
“The mill can turn out ten tons of sugar per diem. The machinery has all the modern improvements…. The works are located on rising ground, whereby each story has a ground floor.”
“The proprietor has built a dock on the water front below the mill, alongside which a vessel can load and unload freight – a vast improvement on the old boat and scow system. Altogether, it may be said that the mill and works of Heʻeia are among the finest and best appointed of any on the Islands.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 14, 1878)
Unfortunately, on February 12, 1879, McKeague received a severe injury by a fall from his horse in an accident crossing the Pali, “by reason of which his mind became impaired to such an extent as to render his intellect incoherent and his judgment defective so as to unfit him for the transaction of business.” (Supreme Court Records) A guardian (TA Lloyd) was appointed to represent his interests.
For the 1880 season, the plantation was renting 2,500-acres, 650 of which were for sugarcane, with 250 actually under cultivation, and having a mill capacity of 10 tons/day, expecting 600 tons that season. (Devaney)
June 30, 1882, John McKeague sold to the Heʻeia Sugar Plantation Company, a corporation “organized and existing under the laws of the State of California, USA, and carrying on business at Heʻeia, Koʻolaupoko, Island of Oʻahu, as cultivator and manufacturer of sugar and other products of sugarcane”. (Supreme Court Records)
Heʻeia had a good landing place, in which the sugar was shipped in barges, to be put on board schooners which lie out about the sixth part of a mile from the shore. In the late-1800s, all supplies were brought to the windward side from Honolulu by the schooner JA Cummins, which made twice a week trips, picking up sugar grown in Heʻeia and Waimanalo, and rice from the area. (Devaney)
In 1880, the region reported 7,000-acres available for cultivation; in 1883 a railroad was installed at Heʻeia, and by the summer of that year it was noted that the railroad had allowed a much greater amount of land to be harvested, even allowing cane from Kāneʻohe to be ground at Heʻeia; however, the commercial cultivation of sugar cane was short-lived. (Devaney)
After almost four decades of a thriving sugar industry in Koʻolaupoko, the tide eventually turned bad and saw the closures of all five sugar plantations by 1903. The closures were due to poor soil, uneven lands and the start-up of sugar plantations in ʻEwa, which were seeing much higher yields.
As sugar was on its way out in Koʻolaupoko, rice crops began to emerge as the next thriving industry. (History of Koʻolaupoko) In 1880 the first Chinese rice company started in the nearby Waineʻe area. Abandoned systems of loʻi kalo were modified into rice paddies. The Kāneʻohe Rice Mill was built around 1892-1893 in nearby Waikalua.
Another commercial crop, pineapple, was also grown here, starting around 1910. By 1911, Libby, McNeill & Libby gained control of land there and built the first large-scale cannery at nearby Kahaluʻu with an annual capacity of 250,000-cans; growing and canning pineapples became a major industry in the area for a period of 15 years (to 1925.)