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Plantation Days revived

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    Renovation of Pioneer Mill's smokestack included a 9,000-pound, 14-foot "crown" constructed from steel and designed to look like the original stone cap, which featured a flared head, four diamond inserts and 40 fluted trays.
    An exhibit from last year's festival featured items from the company's business office, including scales, a typewriter, a lantern and a fan.
    Visitors spot familiar faces in a historic photo.
    Attendees visit the Pioneer Mill Company tent.

Right before the gates opened for the inaugural Lahaina Plantation Days last year, electrician Clifton Akiyama was adjusting lights in the Plantation Life Tent when a photo in one of the displays caught his eye. The young boy in the center of the picture looked familiar.

Taking a closer look, Akiyama was stunned when he realized he was that boy. The photo had been taken at a picnic at one of Pioneer Mill Co.’s "camps" in 1948, when he was just 4 years old.

"My mother and my grandfather worked for Pioneer Mill," Akiyama said. "It’s funny, so many years have passed, but when I saw the picture of the picnic, I remembered that day very clearly."

Lahaina Plantation Days brought back fond memories for many people. "It was wonderful to see grandparents showing their grandchildren old photos and artifacts and talking about them," said Theo Morrison, executive director of the nonprofit Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which spearheads the event. "The Plantation Life Tent was the festival’s biggest attraction."

The foundation launched Lahaina Plantation Days last year to honor plantation workers and their families, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the closing of Pioneer Mill and to draw attention to its renovation project for the mill’s smokestack (see accompanying story).


» Where: Former Pioneer Mill site on Lahainaluna Road, mauka of Honoapiilani Highway, Lahaina, Maui

» When: Oct. 22 from 5 to 10 p.m. and Oct. 23 from 4 to 10 p.m.

» Admission: $3; free for children 12 and under

» Call: 661-3262

» E-mail:

» Website:

» Notes: Free parking next to the site. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation welcomes tax-deductible donations of artifacts from Lahaina’s plantation era (1860 to 1999). Some may be displayed at its Plantation Museum, which opened at the Wharf Cinema Center, 658 Front St., in February. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is free.


"The abandoned mill buildings were a depressing sight from 1999, when the mill closed, to 2006 when they were torn down," Morrison said. "The property, which had been the site of so much energy and activity when the mill was operating, became a big vacant gravel lot with the smokestack towering over it. It really came back to life during Lahaina Plantation Days."

Like last year, the second annual event will feature food, music, a farmers market, carnival games, pony rides, a petting zoo, historical and cultural displays and a video about Pioneer Mill’s closing, titled "The Last Harvest." Exhibits in the Plantation Life Tent will again spotlight precious photos from scrapbooks; maps of the mill’s camps (by 1924, 42 of these villages in Lahaina were home to workers from distant lands); and items used by workers and entrepreneurs whose shops lined Front Street a century ago.

Highlights include an icebox, the predecessor to the refrigerator, two 19th-century steamer trunks and a canoe-shaped boat made from tin roofing material that children once sailed in the waters fronting King Kamehameha III Elementary School.

New this year will be two re-created plantation camps. In the Chinese camp visitors can play mah-jongg, watch qigong and calligraphy demonstrations and try their hand at Chinese knotting. They can buy all sorts of treats, including crack seed, steamed manapua, cookies, biscuits and French bread that will remind old-timers of Hop Wo Bakery, which operated on Front Street from the early 1920s through April 1985.

The Filipino camp will feature dance presentations, eskrima (martial arts) demonstrations and "talk story" sessions with former plantation workers, some of whom are now in their 90s. There also will be pancit, lechon, vegetable and banana lumpia and other traditional food.

"Lahaina Plantation Days helps visitors understand the origins of Hawaii’s multicultural society," Morrison said. "It tells the story of West Maui’s plantation era through the lives of the people who toiled in the fields and raised their families in the camps. Their triumphs, sacrifices, courage and contributions made a significant and lasting impact on Maui."



Established in 1860, Pioneer Mill Company was the first plantation to grow sugar commercially in Lahaina. For 139 years, nearly everyone in West Maui had some connection to it whether they lived near it, were employed by it or knew someone who worked for it. At its peak in the mid-1960s, the mill was processing 60,000 tons of sugar per year.

Built in 1928, its 225-foot, brick-and-concrete smokestack was the tallest smokestack in Hawaii at the time. Whenever the boilers were burning bagasse (the fibers that remain after juice is extracted from cane stalks), billowy white puffs rose from the smokestack, indicating steam was being produced to spin turbines to generate electricity. The smokestack became a Lahaina landmark and a navigational guide for mariners.

Pioneer Mill closed in 1999, and the last of its buildings were demolished in 2006. When that happened, the community banded together to save the historic smokestack. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation assumed responsibility for planning and implementing the four-month, $600,000 restoration project.

Work was completed in August, including "crowning" the smokestack with a steel cap fabricated after the original stone cap that was removed in 2006 because of safety concerns. The dedication of the smokestack and unveiling of the brick walkway that surrounds its base is set for Oct. 22, from 6:30 to 7 p.m. (the admission fee to Lahaina Plantation Days includes this event). Thereafter, the beautifully landscaped area, which includes a display of old mill equipment and interpretive plaques explaining the history of Lahaina’s plantation era, will be open free of charge daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tax-deductible sales of bricks will continue until the walkway is complete. Bricks can be purchased for $125, $500 and $750 apiece online or by calling the Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s office. They can be engraved with whatever name, message or logo you desire. Through Oct. 17, you also can bid on more than 150 great items by going to the online auction on the foundation’s website. They include art, jewelry, tours, dining certificates, hotel stays and golf packages. All proceeds will support the smokestack renovation project.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.


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