Kōloa Plantation Store, circa 1924. Photo by Grove Farm Museum

Kōloa Plantation Store, circa 1924. Photo by Grove Farm Museum

In the early 1800s, Koloa was scarcely inhabited by Hawaiians who grew a variety of kō, or sugarcane, called kōloa, or long sugarcane. But Hawaiians didn’t produce sugar, they chewed the sweet stalks of sugarcane.

In 1789, the first Chinese came to Hawai‘i working in trading ships. One of them, Wang Tze-Chin, settled in Lawa‘i and produced sugar for the first time in Hawai‘i in 1802. Though his production only lasted one crop, other Chinese produced small amounts of sugar in Kōloa, Waimea, Lawa‘i and Māhā‘ulepū between 1820 and 1832, according to Donald Donohugh in his book, “The History of Koloa, a Kaua‘i Plantation Town.”

In 1833, William Hooper, William Ladd and Alan Brindsmade arrived in Honolulu and founded Ladd & Company, a company that sold supplies to whaling ships. The store had a branch in Kōloa. Aware that sugarcane crops were already grown in the area, Hooper came to Kaua‘i in early 1835 to survey a potential plantation.

In the summer of that same year, Ladd & Co. entered into a 50-year lease for 980 acres of land in Koloa, east of Waihohonu Stream. The lease was signed by King Kamehameha III and Kaua‘i Gov. Kaikio‘ewa.

The lease — the first ever of its kind in Hawai‘i — set many precedents for the entire Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Under the lease, local chiefs were excluded from receiving taxation (usually in the form of labor and products) from Hawaiians working in the plantation. Instead, the king and the governor of Kaua‘i would be paid.

Fowler steam plows were introduced to Kōloa Plantation in 1893. Photo by Bishop Museum

Fowler steam plows were introduced to Kōloa Plantation in 1893. Photo by Bishop Museum

Furthermore, Hawaiians workers at the plantation would receive wages and benefits, a concept completely foreign to the Hawaiian lifestyle.

Hooper built the first mill — equipped with koa hand rollers and whaling try pots — at Maulili Waterfall down Waihohonu Stream in 1836. The first crop, only a few acres, produced 100 barrels of molasses and a little sugar. A new dam and a second mill — with steel rollers and copper pots — were built downstream in 1837, and the second crop produced 30 tons of sugar and 170 barrels of molasses, according to Donohugh.

Despite a promising business Hooper had many problems, from labor issues with Hawaiians not used to money and the plantation lifestyle, to alienated chiefs undermining the business, and even forgery of scrip — the first form of paper money in Hawai‘i — introduced to buy goods at the Plantation Store.

Discouraged by three years of losses, Hooper left the plantation, but Ladd & Co. continued the business with other managers, who also encountered problems.