unique chapter in the history of sugar on Kaua’iBy Chris Cook

New Media Manager

KILAUEA – Since its closing almost three decades ago the

buildings and equipment of the Kilauea Sugar Co. have gradually receded into

the past, encircled and displaced by the development of homes and businesses at

Kilauea town.

Memories of the plantation are living on, with the collecting

of details of the 10 decades the plantation was in operation by Kilauea

resident Gary Smith and other local historians. Also helping is the work of the

Kaua’i Historical Society in indexing the plantation’s papers, which are now in

the society’s archives and available for scholarly study.

Smith narrated an

in-depth slide show that illustrated the history of the plantation at a

standing-room-only event held Tuesday night at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center.

Smith is the son of Ernest Smith, who served as C. Brewer’s plantation

manager at Kilauea from 1960-1969. The family spent lived in the rock walled

plantation manager’s house mauka of Kuhio Highway.

Anecdotes of the days

when life at Kilauea revolved around work at the plantation were told by Smith,

and included reminiscents of elderly Kilauea residents he’s collected over the


Along with a bevy of facts about Kilauea Sugar, Smith painted a

picture of daily life on the North Shore during the plantation days. He told of

muddy roads, lives timed by the blast of the plantation whistle, community

athletic events and holiday programs, free medical care and housing, and a

tight-knit community of about 700 where everyone knew each other, and

everyone’s lives were tied to the plantation.

Smith waxed nostalgic about

life at Kilauea prior to its closing in 1971, and said the dream of his youth

was to follow in his family’s tradition and become a plantation manager.

Smith’s great uncle came to England to work on a Big Island plantation,

followed by his grandfather. Though Smith’s wish to become a plantation manager

at Kilauea ended with the closing of the plantation, he returned to the North

Shore town following graduation at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa to found

Mokihana Pest Control, a successful business he continues to run.

The roots

of Kilauea Plantation go back to the 1860s when American settler Charles

Titcomb bought the ahupua’a of Kilauea from Kamehameha IV for about $3,000 and

moved there from Hanalei in 1863. Titcomb gave up sugar growing at Hanalei and

built a homestead and cattle ranch at Kilauea which grew into the town of

Kilauea in what was then known as the moku of Ko’olau. He later bought the

adjoining ahupua’a of Namahana.

In 1877 Titcomb sold the Kilauea property

to Englishmen John Ross and E. P. Adams, and leased his Namahana lands to them.

The partners began planting sugar cane, then founded Kilauea Sugar Co. and

launched the plantation.

The Titcomb family reserved a quarter acre for

family use. Titcomb died in 1883. He and his wife are buried on the parcel,

which is located behind Kilauea School.

The Namahana and Kilauea lands were

eventually sold to R. A. Macfie, son of a wealthy Scottish businessman who

placed him as plantation manager at Kilauea.

Macfie sold part of the lands

in 1926 to J. D. Spreckles, the son of sugar baron Claus Spreckles. Land was

set aside for Kilauea School, which was first located north of today’s


C. Brewer and company took over management of Kilauea Plantation in

1922, with L. D. Larsen becoming manager. The details of their purchase of the

plantation are unclear. Larsen’s namesake beach at Moloa’a is located near the

site of the manager’s beach home. Larsen is notable in Kilauea’s history for

his work building the stone-walled buildings at Kilauea.

Smith pointed out

that the plantation was known for it’s “firsts” on Kaua’i. These included

construction of the first plantation railroad and the first cane cleaning


Then Princess Regent Liliu’okalani visited Kilauea in 1881 to drive

in the last spike of the railroad, Smith said. She was greeted by Kilauea

residents who held a colorful procession in Kilauea town.

C. Brewer ran the

plantation and ran it until its closing in 1971. Among the notable events of

this era was the construction of field stone-walled houses for management and

skilled workers at the plantation. Smith pointed out that the stone-walled

homes built at Kilauea Point in the 1910s used quarried stone, while the ones

built at the plantation beginning in 1926 used field stones cleared from the

plantation’s fields.

Larsen wanted to replace run down wooden plantation

homes with long-lasting stone walled ones, using the abundant supply of


The heart of Kilauea town, as was evident in Smith’s talk, was its

people. Workers included Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean,

Spanish, Puerto Ricans, Scots and Englishmen, Filipinos, and event a

contingent of Gilbert Islanders.

At first the ethnic groups were segregated

into their own camps. However, Smith explained, as the decades passed the

system changed, with bachelor workers in one camp, families in another, and

better homes allocated according to the job rank in the camp.

By the late

1940s over 200 homes were built at Kilauea. When the plantation closed workers

still living at Kilauea were given the opportunity to buy lots, with choices

based on seniorarity.

Smith said rank and file workers were housed along

the edge of hillsides overlooking the Kilauea River, above the plantation dump.

Today the lots are the most valuable in Kilauea Town due to their excellent


The closing of the plantation came about when federal Environmental

Protection Agency regulations were enacted in the 1960s. Problems the EPA found

included mill waste running off into the ocean below Crater Hill.


said besides being financially unable to bring the plantation up to EPA

standards, Kilauea faced changing times in the Hawai’i sugar industry.


said in the old days water supplies were critical to plantation success, now an

abundance of sunshine is a critical factor as irrigation supplies supply an

abundance of water. This trend is evident on Kaua’i where West Side plantations

at Kekaha and Makaweli continue operations while Kilauea on the wet North Shore

is closed.

Smith praised the former Kilauea Plantation workers who stuck it

out after the plantation closed, built homes or fixed up their old ones, and

found work at Princeville resort, in Lihu’e and elsewhere to keep the town



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