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Maui: Puunene Sugar Museum & Mill, Part 2

Another exhibit at the museum is not technically related to producing sugar — but instead to feeding the Portuguese immigrants who came to Maui to work on the plantation. Although chicken and other meat were roasted in these ovens, the primary purpose of the oven was for baking bread. This makes me think of Hawai`ian Sweet Bread which actually originated in Portugal. Love it!

This particular oven was built in the 1920s by Maui Agricultural Company behind one of the workers' homes on the plantation. It was moved to the museum in 1984 and underwent restoration in 2008.

This vessel is called a "Try Pot". These were used originally to render blubber aboard whaling ships. They were later used in the early experiments in processing sugar cane but were deemed less suitable for that purpose than copper pots which conduct heat better and do not rust.

Across the street from the museum is the Puunene Sugar Mill itself. Since there were no signs or tour guides, we can only speculate what we might be observing. The one item of note is the huge pile of coal in the lower right portion of the photo. Perhaps this is where the juice extracted from the cane is partially evaporated, driving off water and making a denser mixture for further processing and eventual shipment to California.

These would appear to be holding tanks of some sort. Perhaps the partially processed sugar slurry is stored here prior to its trip to the West Coast.

And then there was a huge roar of jet engines as this Hawaiian Airlines inter-island flight approached the Kahului airport. Note that when you arrive, you will get a great aerial view of the mill from the left side of the aircraft.

I wandered into an employee parking area at the back of the plant and initiated a conversation with a worker who was just starting his shift. There was one question that was burning in my brain based on the exhibits in the museum but not answered there. So I asked him, "Does the plan operate continuously 24 hours a day?" He confirmed that it did. Processing the cane is a continuous process, not done in batches — so the plant must be manned around the clock.

On the grounds of the mill is this meat market with a date of 1926. It probably harkens back to the time when this was a plantation and the store would have been a convenience for the workers. I suspect that the building is no longer a store but perhaps a storehouse or office of some sort.

BTW, notice the multipurpose use of the red and white chimney — adding three rings of cellular antennas. I did not notice these when i took the shot but I'll bet I had five dots (bars on some cell phones) on my iPhone.

Behind the mill, I found a photographically interesting spot — and the resulting shot just screamed to me, begging to become an historic-looking image via a sepia makeover. I love the result because, to my eye, it really does look like a photograph that might have been taken 100 years ago. I can imagine trekking to this location with a huge wooden camera, my assistant carrying the heavy wooden tripod and a wagon loaded with my glass plates.

The plant itself is adjacent to sugar cane fields — obviously the result of strategic siting of the plant so that the cane did not have to travel far for processing.

Another remnant of the early days of sugar is this irrigation ditch providing abundant water to the thirsty sugar cane. Curiously, this ditch, with its 15-mph current, found another calling as a practice facility for the boys in the Three Year Swim Club at Puunene School, located nearby. The club was started by science teacher Soichi Sakamoto to train swimmers for the scheduled 1940 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan. Unfortunately, the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were canceled due to World War II. However, one of the boys, Bill Smith, went on to win gold in the 400- and 800-meter relay team in the 1948 Olympics held in London.

And here is the aforementioned Puunene School. It was constructed in 1922 by the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company on land that it donated for that purpose — replacing a four-room building which must have been bursting at the seams with some 350 students. At the time that the school was constructed, it accommodated some 1,000 students and was the largest elementary school on Maui.

In the 1950s, the population of Puunene dwindled as workers moved into Kahului and Wailuku and the school was repurposed for special education classes. In 1979 it became an administrative annex for the Department of Education. In 2000, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Puunene has diminished in population but the significance of its history remains strong. It is off the beaten path on smaller country roads behind the sugar mill, but I loved my visit here because of the feeling of its historical importance.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com