Brief History of Waimea
by Mollie Sperry
by Peter French)
- or is it Kamuela? And what is South Kohala? Unraveling the multiple
and overlapping names is a good beginning for any history of Waimea.
Hawaii became a United States territory at the turn of the century, "Waimea"
referred to both the upland community and the slice of our island, an
ahupua'a, stretching from today's Lakeland to the sea, 10-20 miles long
and four to nine miles wide.
matters more, there were sister communities with the same name on other
islands. The postal service demanded a definitive referent. "Kamuela",
Hawaiian for Samuel, was selected, honoring a prominent resident. Later
the descriptive "South Kohala was adopted for the larger jurisdictional
It is the original name,
"Waimea", however that has remained the heart bound and designate
for the town and surrounding area. It's meaning, reddish water, refers
to the tint of the streams after filtering through the hapu' forests in
the Kohala mountains.
recorded times, huge swings of population have characterized Waimea's
development. Sources indicate that before European intrusion and King
Kamehameha the Great's battle to unite the island, the water shed area
at the base of the Kohalas supported as many as 10,000 Hawaiians. The
natives farmed, collected feathers, pounded kapa and thatched hale along
the time the Europeans traveled through in the 1820's the mountain population
had dwindled to slightly more than 2,000. Fields were left fallow while
the Hawaiians harvested and transported fragrant Sandlewood destined for
China. Filling the denuded mountains and plains were aggressive black
longhorns, desendents of a gift from Captain George Vancouver.
would dominate the Waimea scene for more than 100 years. For three decades
their products were to replace sandlewood as important trade items for
the island chain. To supply the growing number of whalers porting in Honolulu
and Lahaina, meat was salted and barreled, but most of the longhorns were
slaughtered for their hides and tallow alone. In 1830, aware of the cattle's
economic possibilities, Big Island's Governor Kuakiki ordered the construction
of corrals and the widening and surfacing of the footpath to the port
and skilled Latin American vaqueros arrived, teaching the natives and
foreign cattle hunters techniques of handling the dangerous longhorns.
Hawaii's unique breed of cowboy, the paniolo, derived his name from these
Spaniards, or Espanoles.
Others came to town. Blacksmiths, craftsmen, tanners, sawyers, missionaries,
and adventurers. Waimea exuded a rough, exciting atmosphere not unlike
a southwestern cowtown.
era was short, lasting only as long as the wild longhorn were plentiful.
By 1841 Governor Kuakiki had placed a kapu on killing wild cattle. The
casual "beef establishment" as it was called, gave way to more
controlled business of ranching. Parker Ranch, so visible today, was one
of the first ranches to be formed. John Palmer Parker built the original
headquarters seven miles out on the plains at Mana, along the main route
to Hilo. Tame longhorns roamed unfenced, devastating crops. Both the wild
bullock hunters and the farmers departed. Waimea town was quiet and empty.
until this century, when Parker Ranch radically expanded and emerged as
a powerful business under Alfred Wellington Cater, did Waimea revive.
Then it grew, responsive to the needs of the ranch and it's employees.
War II brought diversity and added prosperity to the community. Beef and
vegetable prices increased. Farmers returned to cultivate the corn, beets,
cabbage and a variety of other green vegetables. Farmland acreage increased
from 75 in 1939 to 518 in 1946. The area teemed with soldiers who occupied
homes, business facilities and a huge tent city. When they left, Waimea
had an entertainment center, renamed Kahilu Hall, and an airstrip put
to commercial use.
of it's cocoon, Waimea was slated for rapid growth. It's beauty and business
potential would attract residents and commercial enterprises. People did
come, but slowly. The 1940 population of 1,352 doubled in the following
year. In the last two decades the census has quadrupled. By 1990 the population
tallied 9,140 in South Kohala with 5,972 residents in Waimea town.
burgeoning population is diverse and strong. Farmers and ranchers are
joined by educators from seven schools, employees of a string of seven
world class hotels and nine golf courses, astronomers and technicians
from two major telescope facilities, clergy from 14 or more religious
groups and health professionals for the North Hawaii Community hospital,
Lucy Henriques Medical Center and various dental and doctors' offices.
The town hosts Realtors, contractors, architects, bankers and entrepreneurs.
Kahilu Theater anchors a cultural center of artisans and craftsmen. The
expansive Hawaiian Homes Land attracts a substantial number of native
Waimea's three shopping centers, two traffic lights, two fast food restaurants
and twenty-plus other dining establishments are almost too commercial
for some, but the era of rapid growth is here. Parker Ranch and it's late
owner Richard Smart, continue to shape the face and the future of Waimea
through bequests to health, education and cultural facilities, it's own
large business holdings and a community trust.
and asserting a community view, Waimea Main Street is working to preserve
the area's rich history and unique character. An enchanting beacon of
what a town can do collectively, Anuenue Playground, a community built
project, will be joined on the other side of the Waikoloa Stream by a
10 acre nature park thanks to the initiative of the Waimea Outdoor Circle.
seems that the next sequel of Waimea's story is in it's own hands and
will be determined by the strength of community will and individual initiative.