Collecting Makawao’s memories

An effort to eventually create a museum for Makawao, whose history spans ancient Hawaii, the rise of the sugar industry and Alexander & Baldwin, and the establishment of its paniolo image and rodeo, gets off the ground this afternoon with the launching of the Makawao History Project.

The Makawao Community Association and the Makawao Merchants Association will open the project in a ceremony at 5 p.m. today in the former Randy Braun gallery at 1152 Makawao Ave.

Inside the old gallery are a couple hundred artifacts, including old photos going back to the 1800s, saddles, chaps, bottles and more, said Cheryl Ambrozic, project coordinator.

Residents and others with ties to the Upcountry town are encouraged to donate items, including photos, maps, paintings and prints, to the project, which will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 31. Admission is free.

The history project is funded by a county grant from a pool of funds originally earmarked for the now-defunct Wailuku Main Street Association. Of the $22,000 grant, $10,000 was used for the creation of the project and its operation through the end of the year and for the development of oral histories, said Ambrozic.

Grants and donations are being sought to keep the project open after Dec. 31, said Ambrozic. The long-term goal is “to collect Makawao community’s memories” and to start a future Makawao museum, a news release about the project said.

A history of Makawao was prepared by Gail Ainsworth, a former librarian at Maui Community College (now University of Hawaii Maui College) and a local history researcher, for the project.

Ancient Hawaiians established settlements in Makawao, based on archaeological sites. The current town was probably built on the site of an ancient village.

In 1845, three years before the Great Mahele land division that allowed private ownership, King Kamehameha III initiated an experiment allowing commoners to own land in Makawao.

Sugar cultivation began in 1857 with the founding of East Maui Sugar Plantation, also known as Kaluanui Plantation, by H.A. Spencer.

Of greater note, Henry P. Baldwin and Samuel T. Alexander purchased a 12-acre Hawaiian homestead for $110 to create a sugar operation. They later expanded their holdings by purchasing the 559-acre Bush Ranch for $8,000 in Sunnyside in lower Makawao. These parcels became the foundation for today’s Alexander & Baldwin.

In the 1850s, Makawao farmers grew wheat for the Gold Rush in California.

In the 1920s and ’30s, there were general stores, the Makawao Theater, two service stations, a meat market and slaughterhouse, a harness shop and three blacksmiths in town. Komoda Bakery, with its famously sweet cream puffs and stick doughnuts, harkens back to those times.

There are three landmark churches in the area – Po’okela Church, built in 1843; Makawao Union Church, built in 1917 and designed by famed architect Charles Dickey; and the current St. Joseph Church, built in 1911.

But it is ranching and the paniolo that are the current trademark of Makawao. The expansive lands that led to sugar cultivation also were prime for ranching. The 30,000-acre Haleakala Ranch, founded in 1888, raised cattle and operated a dairy for many years.

An interest in cow punching and competition led George Manoa Sr. and Harold F. “Oskie” Rice to form the Maui Roping Club in 1955. A year later, the first Makawao Rodeo was held; it continues to this day on the Fourth of July weekend.

The project’s grand opening is being held during Makawao’s Third Friday Party, which will kick off with a lighting of a Christmas tree on the street corner of the museum. Rose Freitas and Peter Baldwin will light the Makawao holiday star in the tallest Norfolk pine in town.

Ambrozic said that there has been talk for years about creating a museum and that the availability of the county Small Town Planning Grant Program helped make the talk a reality. The Makawao group received one of eight $22,000 grants, according to Deputy Planning Director Michele Chouteau McLean. The money for the grant program came from the $243,000 that had originally been budgeted for WMSA, whose contract with the county was terminated due to violations.

Although a product of the community association and the merchants’ group, a separate board of directors has been formed for the history project, she added.

“We are really excited, and we want to make Makawao proud,” she said.

In addition to donations to the project, volunteers are need to help man the project while open. For more information, call Ambrozic at 283-3732.

* Lee Imada can be reached at