Walter Murray Gibson originally settled the Pālāwai Basin in 1862 as a Mormon Colony for Native Hawaiians. Within a few years, he abandoned the plan and kept the land. By the 1870s, Gibson focused his ranching interests in the area called Kō‘ele, situated in a sheltered valley in the uplands of Kamoku Ahupua‘a. As the ranch operation was developed, Kō‘ele was transformed from an area of traditional residency and sustainable agriculture to the ranch headquarters. Herds of sheep were managed from Kō‘ele, and during shipping season, wool and mutton for the meat markets in Honolulu, were shipped from the coastal village of Awalua, at the northern end of the island.
The original Norfolk Island Pine and Ranch Headquarters at Kō‘ele (Dole Collection, 1912)
It was a lone Norfolk Island Pine, planted at Kō‘ele in 1878, that in 1911, alerted ranch manager, George C. Munro, to the importance of the fog coming off of Lanai Hale as a producer of valuable water in the form of fog drip. Hearing the constant drip of water on the corrugated roof of the ranch house situated along side the Norfolk Pine, Munro realized that the pine boughs collected water from the fog and clouds. As a result, Munro initiated a program of planting pines across Lāna‘i. The pines seen around Lāna‘i today, are Cook Island Pines which were initially planted under Munros' management. After years of depredation by herds of feral goats and sheep, which stripped the island of vegetation, this effort began the process of restoring the islands' watershed. To this day, work initiated by Munro, nearly 100 years ago, continues under partnerships between Castle & Cooke and various organizations and agencies.
"The Island of Lanai with its delightful climate and other attractive features, is one of the most interesting of the Hawaiian Islands. It is the principal sheep-growing district of the Kingdom, and from it are chiefly drawn the mutton supplies for Honolulu and other portions of the Islands... To the visitor approaching it by sea, Lanai has, by no means an inviting appearance, the brown slope rising towards the inner range in almost every direction, giving no indication of the rich grass-covered lands which lie beyond, or of the timber and shrub-covered ridges and ravines with which it is interspersed. Nevertheless, some 45,000 or 50,000 sheep and lambs here fatten upon the succulent grasses, as well as some 600 horses, 500 horned cattle, and goats and hogs. Wild turkeys almost without number also inhabit the island. During the last ten months there were shipped from this island some 5,000 sheep; and numbers of cattle and horses. Very large quantities and an excellent quality of wool are also clipped here, and shipped to the United States, England and other countries... The island is held partly in fee simple and partly in leasehold, by Mr. Fred H. Hayselden..., its ownership having been originally acquired by the late ex-Premier Walter M. Gibson, from whom it descended to Mr. Hayselden and his wife, who is a daughter of that prominent and ambitious statesman whose name is inseparably lined with the political history and general affairs of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Since Mr. Gibson's death, Mr. Hayselden has, from time to time, added largely to his landed possessions, and the entire island, with the exception of a few kuleanas (native homesteads), is now under his control."
"The kanaka population is now in the neighborhood of two hundred and fifty, who are engaged in cultivating small patches, in sheep-herding, and in fishing...
Lanai is a place well supplied with water. There are springs and several small streams in ravines; and upon the beach in different places wells have been sunk which furnish a liberal supply of fresh water. There is one perpetual river, or rivulet, which flows through the ravine of Maunalei. The lovers of the grand and beautiful in nature will here find much to gratify and please, and the botanist, especially, will obtain much food for study and entertaining research among the numerous canyons covered with shrubs and timber forest." [in Paradise of the Pacific. April 1893:51]
View of the Lāna‘i Ranch Headquarters at Kō‘ele (1921, viewed from Ka‘iholena). Courtesy of Suki Richardson Nakoa.
The ancient name, Kō‘ele, literally describes a parcel of land worked for the sustenance of a chief. Interpretively, the name may also describe the dark clouds drawn down, across the area from the Ka‘iholena Valley and slopes of Lāna‘i Hale that lie above.
At times, the mist cover can be so thick and dark that you are unable to see but a few feet in front of you. Dark, almost black (‘ele‘ele), water-bearing mists, which gave life to the land, are regularly drawn (kō) across the land area, thus the name, Kō‘ele.
From 1910 to 1950, the Lāna‘i Ranch operations—focused on cattle—were stationed out of Kō‘ele, which in the early years included more than 30 residences, a store, offices, a one-room school house, and outlying buildings, as a part of the Kō‘ele Ranch complex. Many of the homes and buildings of the Kō‘ele vicinity were relocated from the Keomoku Village of the former Maunalei Sugar Company. The ranch ended operations in 1950, as the Hawaiian Pineapple Company focused all its efforts on the Lāna‘i pineapple plantation.