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3 Great Places to Take in Some Hawaii Island History

Posted on August 31, 2015

Story by Derek Paiva

Who were the first farmers to see the potential for growing coffee on the Kona Coast? What were the everyday lives of early Hawaiians and American missionaries like in early 19th century Hilo? Who was Hawaii Island’s and Waimea town’s “First Lady of Ranching?”

The answers to every one of these questions – and even more great knowledge about Hawaii Island’s rich history and culture – are ready to take rightful spots in your cerebral cortex on your next Hawaii Island vacation. Take my advice, visit the three places mentioned here, and I guarantee you’ll leave a bit wiser than you arrived, appreciate the coolness of Hawaii’s largest island even more, and, maybe, take away some warm Portuguese sweet bread to nosh in your rental car.


Lyman Museum’s mission house (foreground) and its neighboring Vladimir Ossipoff-designed wing in downtown Hilo. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson.

Lyman Museum and Mission House
At or near the top of a list of things that make this Hilo museum way impressive is the fact that its titular mission house, built in the late 1830s by New England missionaries David and Sarah Lyman, is the oldest standing wood structure on Hawaii Island. Constructed with sturdy native koa and ohia woods, it’s one of the oldest structures in the state, as well. In the years following their 1832 Hilo arrival, the Lymans raised seven children in the home and occasionally hosted notable visiting guests, including author/humorist Mark Twain, writer/naturalist Isabella Bird and several members of Hawaii’s royal family. The Lyman’s great grandson Orlando first opened the home as a museum in 1931.

Today, visitors are told the story of the Lyman’s six-month journey to Hawaii Island and given a sense of what the family members’ everyday lives were like in a Hilo town that was then a Hawaiian settlement, on docent-guided tours of the home’s interiors, still largely stocked with furnishings and household items used by the family. A neighboring wing, designed by noted Hawaii architect Vladimir Ossipoff and built in 1971, houses Hawaiian culture and Hawaii natural history exhibits. The wing’s Island Heritage Gallery explores the day-to-day lives of Hilo’s early Hawaiian residents and late 19th century multicultural sugar plantation immigrants. Interactive exhibits in the Earth Heritage Gallery take visitors through Hawaii Island’s multiple world climate zones and an indoor lava tube.

276 Haili St., Hilo • (808) 935–5021 • lymanmuseum.org

Click here for the map location of the Lyman Museum and Mission House.


Anna Ranch’s expansive Waimea ranching acreage offers a beautiful backdrop to its main house and heritage center. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson.

Anna Ranch Heritage Center
The “Anna” in Anna Ranch Heritage Center was a remarkable Hawaii Island resident. By 1939 at age 39, when she took over her family’s 110-acre property, then called Lindsey Ranch, just outside the cool, green upland town of Waimea, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske, already possessed a stellar list of accomplishments rivaling the best island paniolo (cowboys). While taught the etiquette required of young women of Waimea society, Anna, as a child, simultaneously learned and mastered all of the basic skills required of male paniolo — roping and tending cattle, building fences, clearing brush, among them. As caretaker of the family property, she took the ranch to larger business and financial successes by putting pioneering ranching techniques into practice and introducing new breeds of cattle to Hawaii, earning the honorific title of “the First Lady of Ranching” from her island ranching peers. She also became one of Hawaii’s most renowned pau-style horse riders of her day.

Anna’s remarkable 95-year life is the cornerstone of tours of her historic ranch house, now restored, renamed “Anna Ranch,” and filled with antiques, furnishings and household items recounting her and her family’s story, as well as accounts of Waimea’s long ranching history. After a tour of the 14-bedroom ranch house that was home to five generations of Lindsey’s, take in a walk and some great Waimea scenery on the property’s Discovery Trail, and meet the working ranch’s very-own master saddle maker, Alfred Moniz, and blacksmith, Ethan Froney. You’ll leave the ranch with great stories of Anna and her hometown, and an appreciation of Hawaii Island’s fascinating place in U.S. ranching history.

65-1480 Kawaihae Road, Kamuela • (808) 885-4426 • annaranch.org

Click here for the map location of the Anna Ranch Heritage Center.


Warm, fresh from-the-forno Portuguese sweetbread is baked every Thursday morning on a pasture neighboring the Kona Historical Society’s H.N. Greenwell Store Museum. Photo credit: Erin Kinoshita.

Kona Historical Society’s Kona Coffee Living History Farm and H.N. Greenwell Store Museum
This nonprofit brings the history of the Kona coffee belt’s pioneer farmers and multicultural residents back to vivid life for visitors stopping by its two historic sites in the heart of coffee country on Hualalai volcano’s green upper slopes.

At the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, a real-life 5.5-acre coffee estate first homesteaded in 1900, interpreters in period wear act out a fascinating living history of the daily lives, hardships and triumphs of Japanese immigrant coffee farmers in the early 20th century as you explore historic buildings stocked with authentic artifacts and antiques of the era. The best part? Talking story with interpreters and peppering them with questions on Kona history and the myriad cultures that settled there to farm and work.

Living history is also the order of the day a few miles north of the farm at the society’s H.N. Greenwell Store Museum, a restored, circa-1890s general store turned walk-in exhibit, where a shopkeeper chats you up while walking you through your grocery list of era necessities such as vinegar casks, halters and lead ropes for your horse, salted salmon and St. Jacob’s oil. (NOTE: The living history element of the store has been halted temporarily while the Kona Historical Society makes some changes to the exhibit. The store is still open limited hours weekly.)

Stop by the pasture neighboring the store on Thursday mornings and roll dough for Portuguese sweet bread, then help bake it, old-school style, in a traditional wood-fired stone forno. Hang around until the baking’s done and you’ll get to nosh on the carbs of your labor while they’re still fresh and hot.

Farm: 82-6199 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook • Store: 81-6551 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua • (808) 323-3222 • konahistoricalsociety.org

Click here for the map location of the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum.

Click here for the map location of the Kona Coffee Living History Farm.

About Derek Paiva: Derek Paiva is an editor and writer on the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and Big Island Visitor Bureau account team at Anthology Marketing Group. A lifelong Hawaii resident, Derek has enjoyed careers in magazine and newspaper journalism, and was editor-in-chief of Hawaii Magazine from 2010 through 2015. He has traveled extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, written about them exhaustively, and is always looking forward to exploring and learning new things about his home islands. He can be contacted at derek.paiva@anthologygroup.com.

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