Maile’s Meanderings

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Welcome to Maile’s Meanderings.  This page’s stories were written by one of our historians, Maile Melrose, who is an invaluable source of information here at Kona Historical Society.  Thank you for sharing Kona’s stories, Maile!
Check back here every month or “LIKE” our Facebook page for notification of a new installment.

Lumber shipping at Kamakahonu, Kailua

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Our photos for July take us to Kailua once again, only now we have shifted our focus to the northern edge of the bay. We see before us an imposing large freighter floating off shore, with her smokestack churning away and numerous lines stretching from her upper deck to the shore. According to information on the back of the photo, this ship is unloading a cargo of lumber for American Factors, a thriving Honolulu company with branches throughout the islands. Old timers in Hawaii know “Amfac” was originally known as H. Hackfeld & Co., founded back in 1849 by a German sea captain and trader, Heinrich (Henry) Hackfeld. Anti-German feelings during World War I forced the company to reorganize under American ownership and adopt a more patriotic name. Generations of Hawaii shoppers grew up buying party dresses and fancy china at Amfac’s retail outlet, “Liberty House” (another politically correct name), until the company was bought out by Macy’s. However, the warehouses of Amfac dealt with practically everything else for decades: ice, food for man and beast, building materials, hardware, fuel and kitchen sinks. In this case, because Kailua’s shallow water pier was impossible to tie up to, lumber was floated, paddled, and swum ashore and then hauled up to dry on the white sands of Kamakahonu Beach. One agile soul is paddling ashore, balanced on a floating log.

This arduous task, floating huge beams and rafters ashore, happened for well over a century at undeveloped Kona ports such as Kailua, Keauhou, and Ho`okena. Henry N. Greenwell’s shipment of northwest fir for his Greenwell Store arrived at Kealakekua Bay before 1870. His initials – H.N.G. - painted in black on each piece of timber identified his wood so when athletic Hawaiians swam it ashore at Napoopoo, it could be piled in one place. During a recent lunch at Teshima’s Restaurant (where I caught a glimpse of petite and poised Mary Teshima who celebrated her 105th birthday on June 24th!), I met a Mr. Katoku. He told me his father, Takao Katoku, earned a penny a piece to swim lumber ashore and drag it onto the sands of Napoopoo Beach in the early 20th century. That was when Napoopoo “was a really happening place” with Amfac’s wooden store dominating the front street, large metal tanks holding fuel looming amongst the palm trees, and warehouses filled with Kona coffee, Kona oranges, and bananas advertised Kona’s agricultural wealth. And, live beef on the hoof was to be found penned up near Hikiau Heiau, awaiting their one-way trip to Honolulu’s slaughterhouses on board the Humu’ula. Without those water-loving Hawaiian (and later Chinese, Portuguese, German and Japanese) sailors, one wonders how all the hoisting and lowering, hauling and heaving, diving and rowing ever could have happened?!

I showed this photo to one of Kona’s foremost old timers, Kahu Billy Paris. He recalled when freighters arrived in Kailua Bay laden with fuel, a long hose or pipe was connected from the ship to the shore to enable gasoline to be pumped directly into Standard Oil’s large white fuel tank. (see at right in freighter photo) Fifty gallon drums full of oil were simply floated ashore. When “rafts” of bundled lumber made it onto the beach, Mr. Linzy Child, Amfac’s Kailua branch manager, had men grade (select with no knots, rough clear), segregate, and carefully stack each plank to dry with laths in between each piece. Local villagers would be hired to do much of the work on steamer days, a good chance for able bodied men and boys to earn some ready cash. As a result of all this well orchestrated work, when Billy needed lumber to build a new ranch gate, he could count on Mr. Child not to sell him a stack of “junk” with a family of centipedes wriggling through the middle of it – not like 2012!

If you look back at last month’s Kailua photo, you might conclude the photographer who took that photo stood almost exactly where the photographer who took this photo stood. It is rather appalling to see Ahuena Heiau as nothing but a flat pile of water washed stones. A portion of the great stone wall which once enclosed Kamehameha the Great’s private residence may survive as that heap of lava between the two clumps of kiawe trees. This once royal beach has been reduced to a forlorn patch of sand. One outrigger canoe rests in the foreground and a few thatched sheds stand on the northern side of the bay. We cannot see that behind Standard Oil’s tank are buildings that housed Coast Guard Station light house tenders who were in charge of keeping Kailua’s light in working order. Kailua looks absolutely hideous from this angle, hot and inhospitable.

Our second photo, taken looking east towards Hualalai, offers a closer look at the cluster of men gathered at the water’s edge, mostly dressed in long pants and long sleeved shirts, ready to lend a hand or claim their timber. Our eyes are drawn immediately to the old Kailua pier with its blindingly white galvanized iron roof. What a contrast this simple structure is to today’s huge concrete and asphalt causeway which juts out into the bay, covering the original lava formation called Kamakahonu (the eye of the turtle) and bottling up the waters of Kamakahonu in an unhealthy fashion.

Today, tourism has transformed Kamakahonu in ways both good and bad. Amfac still owns the land beneath King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. One can only rejoice that a public water system has allowed a greener landscape to prevail and that David Roy’s work to restore Ahu`ena Heiau has survived. However, as we spoke of Kailua’s current state – the demise of the Kona Inn, a lovely hotel with the finest salt water swimming pool in West Hawaii, not to mention the loss of the fish scale there as well – Uncle Billy concluded with regret, “We’ve made Kailua into a honky-tonk village.” Yes, indeed. One has to wonder what it will look like in another seventy years? Mahalo to the unsung photographers who left us this record of unloading lumber; not a scene of beauty, but certainly one of interest.

Aloha no, e Kona.

by Maile Melrose