The cane is long gone but the sugar museum continues to grow

Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum director Roslyn Lightfoot describes the workings of the Dargie Sugar Mill, a scale model (3/4 inch = 1 foot) of a nine-roller mill designed and built by Honolulu Iron Works in 1918. The working model on display at the museum shows how sugar cane was crushed in Hawaii from the late 1800s until the 1980s. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Puunene Mill lies silent and lifeless. The pungent rotten egg odors are gone. Smoke no longer billows from its iconic stacks.

But across the street at the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum there is a lot of activity and life.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” said Roslyn Lightfoot, museum director Thursday. “The closing of the mill has been a death in the family . . . but it is opening up other opportunities for us.

“People are recognizing the value of what we support.”

As the museum celebrates its 30-year anniversary this weekend, expansion plans are underway. Lightfoot said that she will be finalizing a 30-year lease with Alexander & Baldwin for the existing 1.8 acres as well as an adjoining parcel of 2.3 acres on the Kahului side. She could not release the cost but said that it was “a nominal amount.”

The lease includes a relocation clause in which A&B will provide 10 years’ notice, a relocation site and financial support for the move, Lightfoot said.

“We are now on firm footing to move forward,” she said, noting that the long-term lease is a major “first step” in expansion plans.

Those plans include a train museum for its Claus locomotive and Kalakaua coach car — which are currently on loan to the Maui Tropical Plantation — and the Kahuku steam engine; a plantation village; increased outdoor displays of the mill and field equipment; and a large grassy area for community events, including cultural festivals and plantation camp reunions.

The next major step in the expansion plans will be securing a conditional use permit for the additional parcel, which is zoned residential, she said.

Since the last sugar plantation in the state turned off the lights for the last time in December, the museum has had to make adjustments, such as hooking up and paying for power and water — services that HC&S had provided. The sugar company fixed things for free, as well.

The museum also has undergone an attitude adjustment.

“We have more of a responsibility because now there is a new era,” Lightfoot said.

The museum had been focused on the past, back to the early 1900s, but with the closing of the mill “we have to start looking at showing the history of this era as well,” she said.

“Our responsibility is heightened because of it,” Lightfoot said. “A very challenging time, but it is also a rewarding time.”

Interest in the museum has grown in the wake of the shutdown of the plantation, she said. Family foundations have called, ready to offer support.

The museum is an independent nonprofit that has been strongly supported by A&B and HC&S, said Lightfoot. But the financial reality is that the museum, with projected revenues of $342,600 for this year, is self-supporting on admissions, gift shop sales and donations. The 10 percent garnered from grants are for school programs and special projects.

“It is pretty remarkable that we support 90 percent of our operations,” Lightfoot said.

The museum, with two full-time and six part-time staffers, is forecast to bring in 35,550 visitors this year, according to a 2017 operating plan.

The museum opened in July 1987 in an 1,800-square-foot renovated plantation building that dates back to 1902 and is one of the last few remaining structures from the once-thriving plantation town. The building has six rooms displaying artifacts, photo murals, audio-visual presentations and authentic scale models.

A grant in 1980 by A&B set the wheels in motion for the museum, a memorial to sugar pioneers and HC&S and A&B founders Samuel T. Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin. The gift also helped mark the 1982 incorporation centennial of HC&S, which was a division of A&B.

The museum is a historical and cultural repository for artifacts, photos and documents that depict the history of sugar on Maui, plantation life and the immigrants who worked in the fields, according to the operating plan.

Just last week, Lightfoot said, a man from Germany came to the museum to read a manual for a Euclid truck in the museum files so that he could build a miniaturized model.

Since the shutdown of the mill, Lightfoot has been eyeing HC&S documents, ledgers, letters and old records that can offer a glimpse of life and history on the plantation. For example, a ship manifest can tell a lot about what was going on in a town, she said.

A&B has given the museum things from the fields, such as rain gauges, and manuals for equipment, but the larger equipment is being sold off, she said. Still, the museum may have landed an iconic cane-hauling Tournahauler for display.

Lightfoot explained that a gentleman, who went to the liquidation auction, got caught up in the bidding and bought a Tournahauler. “He really had no place to put it,” so he has offered it to the museum on a long-term loan, she said.

The museum will need to implement its expansion plans to fit the Tournahauler on its property, but if the loan comes to fruition “we’ve got a beautiful display of the evolution of haulers” — a Cat 660 hauler, a Euclid hauler and a Tournahauler.

Though she has no definitive information, Lightfoot has heard that the smokestacks are going to stay. In fact, one of them serves as a cellphone tower, which would make removal more problematic.

While the future appears bright and active for the museum, Lightfoot misses the activity at the old mill.

“It’s very different,” she said. “The parking lot that was so active . . . is now weeds. It is really sad. You don’t hear the sounds. You don’t have the smells.

“I keep looking for smoke or listen for the sounds the mill used to make. . . . It’s all change we have had to adjust to.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.


• What: 30th anniversary celebration for the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum.

• When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Saturday, which is the actual anniversary day.

• Where: 3957 Hansen Road.

• Admission: It is discounted, $5 for adults (normally $7), $2 for kamaaina and senior citizens, and free for children under 12.


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