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The first efforts in commercial agriculture on Lāna‘i were undertaken in 1854—with a focus on lands at Pālāwai and a native Hawaiian settlement under the direction of Mormon Elders. That effort failed, and a member of the Mormon mission—Walter Murray Gibson—began to amass significant land holdings, both by purchase and lease, and initiated several economic endeavors, all of which failed. Following Gibson’s death in 1888, his daughter and son-in-law, Talula and Frederick Hayselden, formed a partnership in 1899 to develop a sugar plantation in the Keōmoku region (Maunalei to Kahalepalaoa) on the windward side of the island. The Maunalei Sugar Company built a large community at Keōmoku, imported Japanese laborers, cleared lands, laid a narrow gauge railroad between Keōmoku Village and Kahalepalaoa, and planted sugar cane that was irrigated by water from Maunalei Valley and neighboring lands. Within three years, by 1901, the venture had failed and the plantation closed.
In 1902 Charles and Luika Gay purchased the sugar company’s interests and put their energies into cattle ranching and limited agriculture—with a focus on watermelon crops and beehives for honey. In 1906-1907, Charles Gay purchased all of the government lands on Lāna‘i, securing some 99 per cent of the land under one title. Unable to meet mortgage debts, Gay lost control of most of the island in 1911, and a group of businessmen formed Lāna‘i Ranch Company. Around 1920, the Gay family turned its attention to its small upland, to begin the first pineapple cultivation in the Lālākoa-Nininiwai vicinity of Lāna‘i—roughly the open lands that lie behind the present day Lāna‘i City. Those efforts met with success, and in late 1922, James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Ltd. purchased the island and began development of what became the world’s largest pineapple plantation.
In the early 1900s Kō‘ele the major population center on the island as ranching and efforts in agricultural diversification were advanced. Several native Hawaiian families continued to reside at Keōmoku, the last native family—Daniel S. Kaopuiki, Sr., his wife, Hattie Holohua Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki—moved up to Lāna‘i City in the early 1950s.
With development of James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company plantation on the island, Lāna‘i’s population underwent significant diversification due to the need for plantation workers, and today the island’s community includes the descendants of Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, and Puerto Rican immigrants, all of whom labored on the plantation.
The most successful and lasting economic driver for Lāna‘i—the pineapple plantation—lasted 70 years, eventually succumbing to rising costs, and the last pineapple harvest took place in October 1992.
A look into the traditions and historical residency on Lāna‘i offers us—in the present-day—lessons for living in a sustainable manner on our unique island home.
March 23, 1866. Sketch Map of Lāna‘i by Walter Murray Gibson as part of request to lease all Government Lands on the island.
The historical notes page provides you with access to various narratives and accounts that span the rich legacy of Lāna'i's history.