The Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum, Maui
As sugar was the main reason for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, it is enlightening to visit a historic house which is now a museum on the history and production of sugar. On the island of Maui, across the street from Hawaii’s largest working sugar factory in the historic plantation town of Puunene, the Alexander and Baldwin company operates an award-winning Sugar Museum.
The Museum is a marvelous repository of information and exhibits about one of the most significant and influential periods in Maui’s history. Dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and heritage of Maui’s sugar industry, the 1,800-square-foot Museum not only charts the establishment and growth of the industry, but looks at sugar’s influence on the development of Maui’s water resources and rich multi-ethnic make-up, and features intriguing displays on the inner workings of a sugar mill.
It is intriguing to note that the company had its beginnings with missionaries.
In 1831, Dwight Baldwin (1798–1886) and Charlotte Fowler Baldwin were sent as medical missionaries to Lahaina. Reverend William Alexander and Mary McKinney Alexander arrived the following year in 1832.
The Baldwin missionary parents lived in the Baldwin House (now the Museum mentioned earlier in this article) in Lahaina.
The Alexander & Baldwin company was founded by their sons Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin as Samuel T Alexander & Co., in 1870. The two purchased 561 acres (2.3 km²) of land on the island of Maui on which they began to cultivate sugar cane.
The land the partners cultivated was semi-arid, not ideal for growing sugar cane, a crop that required much water. Samuel Alexander realized that miles away on the windward slopes of Haleakala mountain, rain was plentiful. Thus, he designed a 17-mile long irrigation ditch that diverted water from that part of Haleakala to their plantation. Work started on the ditch in 1876 and was completed two years later in 1878.
After the completion of the ditch, the company grew and was eventually renamed
Today, passengers in window seats on planes arriving at Maui’s Kahului Airport have a spectacular bird’s eye view of Maui’s most historically significant plant: sugar cane. Some 37,000 acres of this giant grass paint broad swatches of green across Maui’s lower volcanic slopes and sunny central isthmus, giving the island its lush, verdant look.
The Museum has six, mostly modern, exhibit rooms in the historic plantation superintendent’s house.
A visit to this museum adds an appreciation for yet another aspect of Hawaii’s history – one that was predominate from the 1890’s until the 1960’s, when tourism started to surpass sugar in importance for the State of Hawaii. The Sugar Museum is a worthwhile place to understand the workings of the sugar industry on Hawaii.
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From missionaries and settlers to Royalty to sugar, Hawaii has many facets to its history. A greater appreciation for this isolated group of islands can be had by visiting the historic sites of Hawaii. Thank you to the tireless volunteers that work to preserve Hawaii’s heritage. Enjoy. Aloha!