The original settlers of Hawaii actually came from the Marquesas anywhere between 400 to 700 A.D. Kauai plantation and agriculture started to develop as the explorers imported farm animals as well as other food crops like sugarcane, taro, banana, coconut, rice, sweet potato and breadfruit. Other visitors from Spain, America and Russia continued to bring in plants and products like coffee, pineapple, onions and oranges which up to now are produced abundantly in the island.
The Hawaii Sugarcane System
Sugarcane is also known as Ko in Hawaii which has great taste, nutritional value as well as medicinal effects. Stalks are harvested then ground to produce liquid extracts resulting to juice which is then boiled to make raw sugar. Koloa, Kauai was the site of the first commercial sugarcane plantation created in 1835.
At this early stage, there were a variety of problems such as limited labor, water shortage and remote location. Irrigation systems and intricate canal networks were built beginning in 1856 which helped support the sugarcane plantations other fields growing different crops also followed the system yielding abundant harvests and vast amounts of profit.
The Treaty of Reciprocity in 1876 allowed Hawaii to improve its raw sugar trade with the help of the United States. By 1932, raw sugar production has boomed to one million tons. Kauai was still under the Kingdom of Hawaii during this period. Sugarcane plantations became major commercial enterprises that became identical to small cities providing other benefits and services to workers such as housing, entertainment, power and electricity and transportation.
In 1881, the first train arrived on the island serving the Kilauea Plantation. Even after Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States, Kauai continued vast productions of raw sugar. Kauai used to have more than 70,000 acres of sugarcane plantation making the product the leading economic activity that greatly helped the economy in terms of tax revenues and job opportunities.
There are still several Kauai plantations focusing on sugarcane today. The popular ones from the past include Gay and Robinson at Makaweli which was established in 1889, Kekaha Sugar Company at Kekaha which was established in 1856, Grove Farm Plantation at Lihue which was established in 1864, Koloa Sugar Company at Koloa which was established in 1835, Lihue Sugar Plantation at Lihue which was established in 1849, McBryde Plantation at Lawai which was established in 1899 and Kilauea Sugar Plantation at Kilauea which was established in 1877.
The Kauai Plantation Railway
The plantation railway offers a ride back through time in King Kalakaua style wooden cars beginning at the old station in Kilohana camp. The tour takes about 30 minutes wherein you go through 100 acres of fields and plantations featuring popular Hawaiian crops like coffee, sugarcane, pineapple, banana, papaya, hardwood trees and tropical flowers. The train operates daily just 1 mile south of Lihue.
More than 2.5 miles of roadbed have been created with over 6000 wood ties and iron rails spiked in place by human hands at a classic 3-foot gauge. The engines are similar to the ones used during Kauais agricultural peak.
As Kauai plantations continued to expand and flourish in different regions of the island, railroads were created as well bringing products to mills, markets and ports. The Kauai Plantation Railway was a pioneering new railroad built on the island and still today abides by traditional railroad practice.