Long before Hawaii became an American state, and tourism became the islands’ main industry, pineapple, sugar and coffee production were king. In the mid-1800s, plantations and sugar mills began popping up all over Hawaii, and lead to the settlement of some of the state’s oldest towns.
Sugar production has played a major role in the history of the Hawaiian Islands, but now, after 180 years as one of the state’s major industries, there will be no more sugar production in Hawaii after 2016. So, today, we are honoring our vibrant plantation history with a list of 10 influential plantation towns that will take you back to a time where life was simpler.
Once considered Kamehameha the Great’s historically famous “royal playground,” this charming seaside town is full of old-world architecture from the town’s plantation era. Every October, the town celebrates its vibrant history during “Lahaina Plantation Days.”
2. Lanai City
Sitting approximately 1,600 feet above sea level is this small city, settled in the 1920s when sugar cane and pineapple production was king. A collective of pastel-colored, tin-roofed cottages date to the town’s settlement. Not only was the first sugar mill in Hawaii founded on Lanai in 1802, but the town was once home to James Dole’s pineapple plantation, which employed thousands.
Nestled near the West Maui Mountains, this quiet plantation town was once home to the Waikapu Sugar Mill, opened in the 1830s by a New York transplant and his brother-in-law. But before sugar took over the Hawaiian Islands, this area was home to pineapple production, and one of the first coffee plantations in Hawaii.
4. Old Koloa Town
Home to Hawaii’s first ever commercially successful sugarcane plantation, Old Koloa Town is a relic of days gone by. The Koloa Sugar Mill opened in 1935, and by 1898, was producing approximately 225,000 tons of sugar each year. The mill moved in 1912, but production remained strong until 1996.
The largest town on the small island of Molokai, Kaunakakai is full of history. When pineapple and sugar exports were huge in Hawaii, Kaunakakai was a bustling port town. King Kamehameha V’s royal summer residence was once in this ancient canoe landing, and now the Old Western-style storefronts paint the picture of a town stuck in time.
Kapa’a once flourished as the site of sugar and pineapple production. You can still find various buildings – like an old pineapple cannery – that have survived throughout the years.
Like much of Hawaii, Hilo was once the site of major sugar production, and because the city never experienced huge tourist draws like other Hawaii locals, it has stayed true to the state’s pre-World War II persona, which vintage storefronts, and plenty of charm.
The history of this eclectic surfing town on Maui’s north shore can be traced to the opening of the Paia Sugar Mill in 1880. Plantation camps housed workers of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, and Native Hawaiian descent, and in 1896, the Paia Store was opened to support the needs of immigrant sugar workers. Today, Paia is a vibrant, artistic surfing mecca.
Deep in the heart of the lush, picturesque Hanalei valley is this tiny town, home to the famous Hanalei Pier, which was once used for loading sugar, taro and cattle. Fun fact: In addition to the town’s plantation history, from 1817 to 1853, three Russian forts near Hanalei were part of the tsarist Russian America.
The birthplace of Kamehameha I, the area surrounding Hawi holds great cultural and historic significance as the site of the Kohala Sugar Mill. Open from 1863 to 1973, the Kohala Sugar Mill was one of the most famous of Hawaii’s sugar mills. Two decades ago, a new generation of entrepreneurs and artists flocked to the former plantation village and, with the help of longtime residents, moved bookstores, galleries, boutiques and restaurants into the town’s decaying storefronts.
Tell us, which one of these old plantation towns is your favorite to visit? Share your thoughts and opinions with us on our Only In Hawaii