The Harunaga Family on front of the Honokaa Theater. (Photo from “Honokaa Town)
The Harunaga Family on front of the Honokaa Theater. (Photo from “Honokaa Town)
S. Hasegawa Store is one of the buildings featured in “Honokaa Town” by Laura Ruby and Ross Stephenson. (Photos by Kevin Kawamoto)
S. Hasegawa Store is one of the buildings featured in “Honokaa Town” by Laura Ruby and Ross Stephenson. (Photos by Kevin Kawamoto)

“Images of America” Series Highlights the Old Plantation Town’s Living History and Heritage

Kevin Y. Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

You can learn a lot about the history of a place through books and oral histories, photographs and video documentaries. But one way to really experience that history, firsthand, is through its architecture and landscape and to actually walk through the town, where the residents and other community members have made an effort to preserve its historic look and ambience.

"Honokaa Town" Author, Laura Ruby
“Honokaa Town” Author, Laura Ruby

That’s what visitors to Honoka‘a Town on the northern end of the Big Island’s Hämäkua Coast will find when they visit this relatively small community of just over 2,200 people. Located about an hour’s drive north of Hilo, Honoka‘a is definitely not an outdoor museum. It’s a community where people live and have raised families for generations, where people operate businesses and go to work every day and play on their days off, where people grow old and pass on.

Thanks to historical preservation efforts, Honoka‘a Town has retained significant architectural elements of its past. This is not by accident. Many buildings constructed during the late 1800s and early 1900s remain standing, much as they were when they served the multiethnic plantation-era population, because of the collective efforts of individuals within and outside of the community. As a result, visitors and residents alike can see a piece of Hawai‘i that has disappeared in so many other parts of the state as modernization has given way to the demolition of historic structures.

"Honokaa Town" Author, Ross Stephenson
“Honokaa Town” Author, Ross Stephenson

In 2015, Laura Ruby and Ross W. Stephenson co-authored a book they titled, “Honokaa Town,” published by Arcadia Publishing for the “Images of America” series. The 128-page book, which is available in both hardcover and paperback, takes the reader on a photographic journey through this plantation-era community, showing readers what the landscape and buildings looked like over the past hundred years or so. In many cases, those same buildings remain standing today, renovated and refurbished in keeping with standards of historical preservation.

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Kevin Y. Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.

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