Photo: Joel Bradshaw/Wikimedia Commons

Maui's Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum tells of a time when sugar was king

The museum preserves the history and heritage of Hawaii’s sugar industry and multiethnic plantation life.

From 1835 to the early 1960s, cane was king in Hawaii. Dozens of plantations and mills were operating throughout the Islands, employing local workers and immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal and other countries. Hawaii’s last remaining sugar plantation was operated by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S), a division of Alexander & Baldwin.

Across from HC&S’ fields and mill in central Maui, the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum occupies the former residence of a mill supervisor. The 2,800-squarefoot house, built in 1902, is the perfect place for the museum to fulfill its mission “to preserve and present the history and heritage of (Hawaii’s) sugar industry, and the multiethnic plantation life which it engendered.”

The museum is a treasure trove of plantation-era objects.
Photo: Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum

Among the items on display are labor contracts written in Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese; bango, small metal discs or squares that served as ID cards on the plantation; and household items, including a ceramic crock used to make kim chee; a kau kau tin (lunch pail) from which workers from different ethnic groups shared food; and early- to mid- 1900s bottles that contained everything from soda to sewing machine oil.

Other exhibit highlights: a 1915 locomotive bell, which you’re welcome to ring; a field worker’s outfit (the scarf, leggings and gloves provided protection from the sun, dust, insects and sharp cane leaves); and a model of a 1930s plantation house that’s accurate in every detail, right down to the glass in the windows, the hinges on the doors and the green color of the exterior.

The museum’s pride and joy is a working model of a cane-crushing machine, handcrafted by the late David Dargie, a chief machinist and shop superintendent at Kaiwiki Sugar Company on the Big Island. It took Dargie more than 30 years to build the model, which goes into motion when a button is pressed.

Outside, you can get a close look at a trench digger, a tractor and a cane grab, which picked up cane and loaded it onto trucks for transport to the mill. Don’t forget to take a sample of raw sugar when you leave.

Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum

The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum is at 3957 Hansen Road, Puunene, Maui. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, with the last admission at 4 p.m. Admission is $7 adults, $5 for military and seniors 60 and older, and $2 for children 6-12. Children five and younger are admitted free. Family rates of $20 and group rates of 10 or more people at $5 each are also available. 871-8058; www.sugarmuseum.com.

A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 print issue of Huakai, a bi-annual publication published by aio Media in partnership with Starwood Properties.