Thomas Brown’s vanished Wailua Falls Mansion

Englishman Thomas Brown (1804-1886) had been a horticulturist at Windsor Castle when ill health compelled him to seek a warmer climate.   

He chose Hawai‘i, and soon after arriving in 1846 with his family, he obtained a 99-year royal government lease to about 1,000 acres at Wailua for the purpose of establishing a dairy and coffee plantation.

There, he built an English-style manor house known as the Wailua Falls Mansion, with its frame shipped unassembled from England via China and its timber cut from nearby Kaua‘i forests.

Nestled amidst 85 acres of pasture, orchards, and well-tended gardens, it was situated a few hundred yards east of Wailua Falls on the brink of the high bluff just above the juncture of the North and South Forks of the Wailua River, a place Hawaiians called Kumalu. 

The mansion could be reached upriver by canoe, beyond the Fern Grotto where the river becomes unnavigable, followed by a steep climb at Konolea (site of Konolea Rice Plantation that operated many years later into the early 1900s), or overland by fording the flats above Wailua Falls. 

Its drawing room, with large windows extending its entire length, overlooked Wailua Valley, and a paneled doorway and spacious reception parlors welcomed visitors into its eight lofty, plastered rooms.

Brown’s mansion even featured a secret chamber that charmed and fascinated guests.

But, after three successive coffee plantings fell prey to caterpillars, Brown quit his lease in 1852 and moved to New York. Scotsman Duncan McBryde and others lived there for a time, and in the late 1870s, King David Kalakaua had the mansion disassembled and moved into the valley, intending to rebuild it later at Kapahi.  

Kalakaua’s plans went nowhere and Brown’s mansion decayed and vanished.  Lost forever, no pictures of it exist.

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