Do you love to go on a deep dive into the history of the Hawaiian Islands? Want to round out your knowledge with a look at the inner workings of the local sugarcane plantations? Then, get on over to the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum to learn all you can. Located in the heart of Puunene, this museum aims to teach you all there’s to know about the namesake company’s sugarcane operations right in the house of the former mill manager.
Since it’s set in a cozy homestead of yesteryear, the museum has a small footprint. Despite that, it’s chockful of amazing artifacts and supportive documentation about all aspects of the sugarcane industry. The many exhibit rooms take you on a journey through the creation of the plantation and its full operations. You’ll want to give yourself at least an hour to get through them all, especially if you want to experience all the listening exhibits.
The in-depth lesson on the plantation starts with the Geography/Water Room. In this exhibit room, you get to see how the local geography and climate helped the sugar industry thrive on the islands. You can explore all the maps that show the irrigation system complete with its many wells and tunnels. Plus, you will have a chance to honor the workers who put it all on the line to develop the land and water the sugarcane.
Next, you’ll go into the Founder’s Room to learn all about the company owners, Henry P. Baldwin and Samuel T. Alexander. The exhibits let you take a look into their early lives, the road to building the plantation, and their legacy. On the other side of the equation are all the workers, which you can learn about in the Immigration Room. The exhibits change on a quarterly basis to show each ethnic group that landed on the islands to help at the plantation. You’ll see labor contracts in Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian plus photos and other key documents.
The Plantation Room lets you learn even more about the workers by exploring plantation life. The scale model of the worker’s camp house gives you a glimpse into how everyone lived day to day. To support that inside look, you’ll also get to explore household artifacts, photographs, and even religious items. Upon stepping into the Field Work Room, you’ll see how the workers helped grow and harvest sugarcane day after day. All their surveying equipment, cane knives, and other tools stay on display always alongside their fieldwork outfits.
The Mill Room completes the indoor exhibits with a variety of interactive displays. Each one lets you see how the workers turned the sugarcane into the pure sugar you know and love. You can even see how the steam-powered cane crushing machinery worked by exploring the working scale model.
For a look at even more equipment, just head on outside to see some of the machinery leftover from the plantation days. Ancient Caterpillar tractors dominate the space, although you’ll also find an 1898 Nordberg Steam Engine and a Cleveland Model J36 Trench Digger. Take a peek at the Portuguese oven from the 1920s as well to see how the workers nourished themselves with tasty food day in and day out.
Before leaving, you can have a picnic on the grounds if you want. It’s also a good idea to browse the gift shop for amazing souvenirs. Don’t forget to take photos of your group outside the museum, too. So, you can beautifully capture your time learning about the history of Hawaiian sugarcane plantations.
-They stop admitting people into the museum at 1 pm each day.
-Admission is free for residents with a state ID.
-Although they do take most major credit cards, American Express is not accepted.
-Teachers can share the lessons taught at the museum by taking part in their virtual education program. They’re happy to customize their learning kits for all grade levels.