Kauai North Shore Resort Had Humble Beginnings
Princeville on Kauai’s north shore is one of Hawaii’s finest resort areas, set beneath lush mountains and bordering beautiful Hanalei Bay.
The origins of Princeville go all the way back to 1842 when British subject and sea captain Godfrey Rhodes along with Frenchman John Bernard were given a 50-year Government lease of 150 acres of land along the Hanalei River.
They started a coffee plantation and also leased some of the land to Gottfried Wundenberg who began growing coffee on the east side of Hanalei Valley. Rhodes built a home near the future Hanalei Bridge site and named it Kikiula (it would later be called the Princeville Plantation House).
Princeville – The Early Years
The coffee plantation grew to almost 1,000 acres. Along with the neighboring Hanalei coffee plantation of Charles Titcomb there were more than 100,000 coffee trees being cultivated in Hanalei Valley.
Agricultural Society statistics for 1850-1851 stated that “Hanalei exported 21,298 pounds of coffee, 39 barrels of Irish potatoes, and 20 head of cattle, at a total value of $27,744.08.” A shortage of labor, excess rain, then drought and a blight eventually doomed the Hanalei coffee operations.
In 1851 Wundenberg began growing tobacco in Hanalei but that crop eventually fell prey to a cutworm that infested the plants.
The Scotsman Wyllie Purchases Lands in Hanalei
A Scotsman named Robert Crichton Wyllie, who had served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Hawaiian Kingdom, bought the Rhodes plantation for $1,300 and expanded the acreage to include the lands to the east above Hanalei Valley (the region now known as Princeville).
Wyllie entertained guests including King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma who came along with the son the Crown Prince Albert in 1860 for a six-week stay. It was after this visit that Wyllie named his estate Princeville in honor of the young prince.
Also in 1860 the visiting Theo H. Davies described the view from the Princeville Plantation House: “In the centre a cluster of these peaks forms a basin some thousands of feet high into which perpetual cascades pour from the cliffs around. After a rainstorm almost scores of these waterfalls may be seen glittering against their green slopes.”
Davies also commented on the local animosities saying that, “of the four white households that hold sway in this lovely district of creation, no two are on friendly terms.”
Wyllie Builds A Sugar Mill
In 1861 Wyllie began planting sugar and set about building the most advanced sugar mill in Hawaii importing $40,000 worth of machinery from Scotland. The steam-powered mill sat on the east bank of the Hanalei River including a 110-foot chimney.
Wyllie also continued buying land on the plateau above Hanalei and also purchased the ahupua’a (land division) of Kalihiwai. In an attempt to recruit native Hawaiians to work on his plantation Wyllie published this notice:
Wyllie’s Broadside Distributed to Natives of Hanalei
“By apprenticing your sons to carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and coopers, they would in a few years become carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and coopers themselves, and earn much higher wages than 25 cents a day. You know that such mechanics are paid much higher than mere field laborers, porters, boatmen and cart drivers. Why should some of your sons not learn these arts, and by their industry, get as high wages as the foreigners, who now are, with few exceptions, the only men who practice them? If your sons, after learning these arts, work for me as well, and as many hours every day, and as many days in the month as the foreigners, I shall not only pay your sons the same wages as to the foreigners, but prefer your sons to them.”
Princeville Plantation Continues On Without Wyllie
Robert Crichton Wyllie passed away in 1865 and ownership of Princeville Plantation changed hands several times during the following decades. Growing sugarcane in the area eventually became unprofitable and the Hanalei Sugar Mill closed.
“The Princeville plantation brick chimney, for years an outstanding landmark at Hanalei, is a thing of the past,” stated the Garden Island newspaper in 1919, “It was demolished on Saturday last by means of dynamite administered at the base, which brought it down with a great crash, that was heard all over the Valley.”
Despite the loss of the sugar mill, Princeville provided its residents with new opportunities and eventually went on to become one of the world’s premier resort areas in one of the most beautiful locations on Earth!
In the 1870s the famed explorer and writer Isabella Bird visited Hanalei and wrote, “Hanalei has been likened by some to Paradise…every one who sees it raves about it. [Hanalei] has every element of beauty, and in the bright sunshine, with the dark shadows on the mountains, the waterfalls streaking their wooded sides, the river rushing under the kukuis and ohias, and then lingering lovingly amidst lively greenery.”