A Brief History of Wahiawa

   

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In ancient days this huge ahupua`a (Hawaiian land division), stretching between the Wai`anae and Ko`olau mountain range, was called Lihu`e. It is rich in Hawaiian legend and fact, as it is one of the oldest places on O`ahu. Before King Kamehameha I united the islands, it was here that the O`ahu chiefs trained their armies (the site of Schofield Barracks now) and revered the place of royal births of Kukaniloko (birthing stones site). They liked the cool climate, the lush growth of the mountains, the abundance of wild game, and the many birds from which they plucked feathers to make capes for royalty. Later this land was called the Leilehua Plateau and today it is known as the Wahiawa District.

Through the enactment of the Land Act of 1895, the land of Wahiawa was withdrawn from cattle grazing leases and offered for sale to farmers interested in diversified farming. Bryon O. Clark and government officials visited this 1,350 acres tract of land designated for homesteading on January 1, 1898.

Clark wrote to friends in California, encouraging them to apply for one of the allotments for homesteading. Twelve applied and by the spring of 1899 the last of the colonists were settled on their land for the required three years.

These colonists came with high hopes, skills, courage, and determination to build for themselves a new life. They carved a place to live on this barren, undeveloped land covered with scrub brush where untamed cattle once roamed. But, through trail and error, the homesteaders prevailed.

To reach Wahiawa, the homesteaders forded the north and south forks of Kaukonahua Stream which surrounds Wahiawa, making it an island within an island. Life was hard but they cleared the land and planted their required fruit trees and crops. They built a one--lane bridge, constructed homes, laid out roads, obtained water rights, built a store and post office, and saw to it their children were educated. In a very short time the homesteaders had a community and started the pineapple industry.

Clark found some discarded pineapple slips which he shared with Alfred W. Eames and in 1900 they harvested their first crop in the community. Clark experimented in his home kitchen to can the fruit in glass jars. Eames founded the Hawaiian Island Packing Company and built his first cannery in the Wahiawa heights area in 1902. This company was later known as Del Monte Fresh Produce (Hawaii) Inc. Another homesteader and planter, Will P. Thomas, operated under the Thomas Pineapple Company, which in 1917 following his death, became Libby McNeill & Libby of Honolulu.

In July of 1900, James Drummond Dole was high bidder of a government auction for the 61 acres of land that was given up by one of the original homesteaders. He built a cannery next to his pineapple fields in Wahiawa and packed his first cans in 1903. Today his Hawaiian Pineapple Company (HAPCO) is known as Dole Food Company, Hawaii. By 1904, Wahiawa was known as "The City of Pines" and was considered the "hub" of the pineapple industry in the world.

Wahiawa Town's multi ethnic make-up, over its formative years, closely follows that of the plantation contract laborers coming to the islands to work in the pineapple fields. Plantation life was hard and many contract workers left the plantation once their contracts expired. Some of them or their children started businesses in Wahiawa. The community continued to grow, a town developed, and a new district initiated.

In 1913, a new district was created which the ahupua`a bordered by the Wai`anae and Ko`olau mountain ranges and land was taken from Waialua and Ewa districts to form this new and seventh district of Wahiawa.

Elizabeth R. Smithe

Written from the files of the
Wahiawa Community & Business Association

         

Last modified 4 March 2017.
©2017 Wahiawa Historical Society. All rights reserved. Pages by Bob Lormand