skip to Main Content

As the success of sugar grew, so did the demand for the resources required for its production. More land was brought under the plow, manpower was imported from around the world, and water development became an obsession.

Kohala’s weather can be quite variable and often experiences periods of drought. A prolonged drought meant disaster which at times led to desperate measures. During a particularly bad period, an attempt was made to nurture rain from passing clouds. Several sticks of dynamite were taken aloft by enormous kites which could be controlled only with great effort by at least two stalwart men. The ensuing explosions were meant to dislodge moisture from the clouds. The attempts met with failure…much to the delight of Kohala’s trembling canine population.

It took minds with greater vision, tinged with dogged persistence, to arrive at a more effective solution.

By the 1880’s John Hind, head of Hāwī Plantation, a modest plantation in the relatively dry region around the village of Hāwī, hit upon the idea of moving water from the wet mountain valleys to the dry lowland fields using tunnels and stone-lined ditches as had been done on several of the smaller islands in the Kingdom. He attempted to arouse the support of the other Kohala plantations, but as soon as rain returned after a drought, whatever attention he had previously drummed up would evaporate.

To further complicate matters for Hind, several early surveys declared impossible the idea of economically moving water out of the “precipitous declivities” of the Kohala Mountains. Although a considerable quantity of water was found, it was concluded that high cost made it prohibitive because the deep valleys with their almost perpendicular sides put the water out of easy reach.

Years passed while John Hind’s dream languished.

In April, 1901, Arthur Tuttle, a civil engineer from New York, began an extremely thorough investigation into the feasibility of developing the water resources in the valleys of the Kohala Mountains. After camping in the often dangerous valleys for an entire year, Tuttle’s detailed analysis concluded that it would be expensive and difficult, but it was possible to deliver water to the Kohala plantations in an economically sound manner.

Meanwhile, John Hind continued his fruitless attempts to enlist the financial support of his four neighboring plantations. Mr. C. M. Cooke, President of Kohala Sugar Co. flatly told him that they would not invest “a single dollar” in Hind’s folly. Finally, Hind’s search led to J. T. McGrossen and more importantly, to Samuel Parker. “Colonel Sam”, as he was affectionately known, was a greatly loved grandson of Parker Ranch founder, John Parker. Sam was not known for his prudence and enjoyed the pleasures of life with a robust attitude. His successful investment in the Kohala Ditch was a surprise to many.

Alone among his Kohala peers, Hind pushed onward. He secured the services of Michael M. O’Shaughnessy, a widely respected American civil engineer whose practical and theoretical strengths were clearly indicated by his accomplishments building irrigation systems on Kaua‘i and Maui. Aided by his field engineer, Jorgen Jorgensen, O’Shaughnessy’s plan would eventually be developed and executed on time and just slightly over budget.

Although many nationalities were represented in the planning, organizing and building of the Ditch, in terms of craftsmanship, endurance, and pure physical effort the Japanese builders stand supreme. These young and adventuresome men sought out a better life than could be had in their homeland. Their optimism was challenged by the difficulties of living in an alien land, surrounded by unfamiliar cultures and languages. They overcame many dangers and hardships to build what no others were able to.

Back To Top