Historic Kealakekua, Hawaii (Part 1)

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Part 1: Upcountry Kealakekua
One of the unexpected joys of many people’s trips to the Big Island is their discovery of the rich and varied tapestry of history that wraps the Island. Hawaii is the only state in the union that has king’s palaces, temples to the gods of surfing and architectural history that spans a millennium and a half. Many people don’t realize that the Kona Coast was an important region of major fishing villages, taro farms, and religious centers for a millennium and a half. However, the Kona region rose in ascendancy as a religious and political center when King Umi founded his capital here in the sixteenth century. In 1812, King Kamehameha established Kailua Kona as the Capital of his newly united Kingdom of Hawaii. 

For almost 400 years, temples and palaces around Kona served as a kind of “Rome of the Pacific” and one of the great political and cultural centers in Polynesia until the capital of the Kingdom was moved to Honolulu in 1850 by Kamehameha III. Slipping into a sleepy, territorial backwater torpor, Kailua Town and the Kona district dozed gently through the plantation era and early statehood into modern times. 

Let’s take a quick tour of the Kealakekua Region of Kona. In this region the Kings of old ruled; the great explorer Captain James Cook spent time among the Hawaiians and ultimately lost his life; and where the two industries of ranching and coffee farming were born on Hawaii and flourish today. 

Part 1 of this article will explore Upcountry Kealakekua; Part 2 will explore the area nearer the ocean. 

Kainaliu Town
Lapping gently on either side of Highway 11, Kainaliu Town is one of the principle commercial centers of Up Country Kona. Kainaliu grew up at the intersection of two donkey tracks to service the sugar, coffee, and ranching industries, sometime after the construction of Lanakila Church in 1867. 

The star attraction in Kainaliu is, by far, the Aloha Theater and Aloha Angel Café. This historic and beautiful theater is still the center for stage productions of all kinds as well as cinematic shows; it is the centerpiece for the Kona Association for the Performing Arts (KAPA). Another of the towns interesting attractions is the amazing Oshima Grocery and Dry Goods Store (“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”). In addition the town boasts numerous other businesses, galleries, furniture, thrift, herbal medicine shops as well as several wonderful restaurants and coffee houses. Donkey Balls has a candy factory that offers fun tours and tasty samples and Captain Cook Coffee has a roasting house right in town that gives weekday tours. When the weather turns wet in West Hawai’i, or you need a relief from the heat on the beach, a day spent browsing and eating in cool, shady Kainaliu is a real treat. 

Aloha Theater
The Aloha Theater and its cafe, serve as a gathering place for the community and the home of independent, classic and second run films as well as the Hawaiian International Film Festival and various community events. 

Construction of the Aloha Theater began in 1929 and was finished in 1932. long before Hawai’i was a state. Starting life as a silent movie theater, it survived the changeover to “talkies” as well as the great fire of 1948 that destroyed much of its side of town. Still in use today as a performing arts center by the Kona Association for the Performing Arts, performances feature live music and dance as well as film. The Quonset-hut shaped original theater building and the original marquee still in use are very typical of the style used in other theaters of this period in Hawaii. 

The Aloha Angel Café associated with the theater offers a wide-ranging menu of entrees, baked goods, and deserts and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Kalukalu Homestead/Kona Historical Society Museum
Members of the Greenwell Family have been important in Kona history and society since Henry Nicholas Greenwell bought 300 acres of farmland at Kalukalu in 1850. Leaving the British military service at age twenty-three for adventure in gold rush California, Henry Greenwell was injured off-loading supplies and he sailed to the Hawai’ian Kingdom in search of a doctor for healing. Once ensconced in Kona, and like many early pioneers in Hawai’i, Henry Greenwell had several businesses and served the community in many ways: he was not only a farmer, but also a rancher and sheep herder, dairy farmer, importer, school agent, postmaster and the Customs Agent at Kealakekua Bay. He married Edith Caroline Greenwell in 1868 and they raised ten children. During his lifetime in Kona, he and his neighbors, competitors and partners presided over the massive agricultural change in West Hawai’i as the small, Hawai’ian kuleana, or family garden plots, were rapidly displaced by large-scale sugar and coffee farms and ranches. 

The original Greenwell home at Kalukalu was torn down in 1960s, however the store Henry Greenwell built in 1875 is still standing and is operated today as a museum by the Kona Historical Society. Greenwell’s store was one of the very first commercial ventures to serve the growing upland Kona settlements; until then, poor wagon roads meant most stores and businesses were located along the coast at ports such as Kailua and Napo’opo’o. 

Greenwell Farms is open for free tours Monday through Saturday from 8 to 4:30; tours last fifteen to twenty minutes. In the Greenwell Store original buildings, the Kona Historical Society has its offices, archives and runs a small museum. The Museum is open weekdays only, from 9 to3 and the admission is two dollars. 

D. Uchida Coffee Farm
Have you ever wondered what life was like on a Kona coffee farm during the early 1900’s? The D. Uchida Coffee Farm is where you can listen and relive the story of Kona’s first Japanese coffee farmers.

The present day Kona Historical Society has collaborated with the Kona coffee community, creating a project which both amuses and informs the visitor of the chronicles of Kona Coffee. It is a chance to peek into a past Kona life style, which is close to being altogether erased. The Kona Historical society arranges tours daily. 

Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden
Hawai’ian culture and society, due to the limited resources of island living, revolved around the efficient and knowledgeable use of a vast array of plants for building, medicine, food, clothing and just about every other aspect of life in the Hawai’ian archipelago. The Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Gardens preserves this ancient knowledge and the rapidly disappearing plants in a delightful garden, which is now run under the auspices of the Bishop Museum. Amy Greenwell had a ferocious and wide-ranging curiosity about plants and their cultural uses, so this garden hosts not only indigenous Hawaiian plants and herbs, but also a variety of tropical botanical specimens from around the Pacific. 

The park is open from dawn to dusk seven days a week and there are free guided tours on the first and second Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. and other tours can be taken by arrangement. 

Manago Hotel
Built in 1917 by a Japanese mail-order bride and her husband with an initial investment of one hundred dollars, The Manago Hotel started out as a single house and evolved, through numerous remodelings, into the oldest continually-operating hotel on Hawaii Island. 

Kinzo Manago and his wife Osame bought the original cottage, stove and land with borrowed monies. Providing meals and futons to overnight guests, the Managos continually remodeled and enlarged the house to meet the rising demand of travelers on the Big Island. 

The toko-bashira, or good-luck post necessary to any Japanese business, was acquired back in 1917. At that time all they could afford was a coconut log which the artist soaked in the ocean to soften and to keep termites out. When you visit, be sure to see it in the lobby, still hard as a rock, still beautiful after nearly one hundred year. 

Today, the grandchildren of Kinzo and Osame operate the Hotel with all the tradition, hard work, affection and commitment to service that their parents and grandparents put into the Hotel. The restaurant still serves world famous stuffed pork chops, best on the Island. Whether you come to eat, to stay or just to see this wonderful piece of living Hawai’ian history, be sure to take a stroll through the lobby and look at the photographs of Old Kona. 

Part 1 | (Part 2)


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