Editor’s note: West Hawaii Today, in conjunction with the Kona Historical Society, is pleased to present readers a weekly feature compiled by the society called “A Guide to Old Kona.” These articles and accompanying photographs have been compiled and provided by Kona Historical Society and were published previously in a book of the same title.
The lands of Holualoa are part of the historic Kona Field System. Full-scale immigration of Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese laborers in the 19th century changed Holualoa from a Hawaiian farmland into the principal agricultural village in North Kona. Newcomers found the steep countryside suitable for growing coffee, cotton, Isabella grapes, breadfruit and Kona oranges.
Then, believe it or not, Holualoa was a sugar town for 27 years. From 1899 to 1926, coffee was cut down to make way for fields of sugarcane, which surrounded Holualoa in all directions. The sugar plantation carried the region’s economy, and Holualoa became its commercial center. Plantation camps sprang up near the mill and along the length of the railway. Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist churches were established to serve the multiethnic community.
Clearly, immigrants found Holualoa to be a town of financial opportunity. Luther Aungst chose Holualoa as headquarters for the Kona Telephone Company, started in the 1890s. Using mules to drag telephone poles across lava flows, Aungst installed a line from Hilo to Ka‘u, and across Kona to North Kohala. Dr. Harvey Saburo Hayashi from Aomori-ken, Japan, one of Kona’s first full-time resident physicians and publisher of Kona’s first newspaper, the Kona Echo, lived there.
Today, long-time residents like Goro Inaba, proprietor of the Kona Hotel, insist that Holualoa was a busier spot than Kailua during the first decades of the 20th century. Where the Imin Center is today was the Holualoa Japanese language school, the first independent language school in all Hawaii. It was built and maintained by the community and not associated with any religious group. Kona Bottling Works (1920-1942), formerly situated downstairs where the Country Frame Shop is today, supplied and delivered soda water as far south as Hoopuloa.
Sugar’s collapse spelled economic ruin for many people. Coffee kept Holualoa alive, but just barely. Young people looking for employment left North Kona in droves, finding work in Honolulu or on the mainland. By 1958, just over 1,000 people lived in the Holualoa area. The construction of Kuakini Highway in the 1950s reduced traffic through town even further.
Tourism and a coffee boom have brought new life to Holualoa. Eager entrepreneurs have transformed old garages and empty houses into galleries showcasing art of every description, some of it produced by artists who grew up in Holualoa. Friendly family run businesses such as Kimura’s Lauhala Shop, the Kona Hotel, and thrice-named Paul’s Place (formerly Tanimoto General Store in the 1890s, and later Morikami Store in the late 1920s) keep old Kona alive.
Copyright 1998 Kona Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.