Much of Hawaii’s modern day commerce was built as the result of the infrastructure developed for the sugar industry. On larger islands like Maui and Kauai, sugar mills sprang from fields of green that waved in the afternoon tradewinds, and even Lanai and Molokai had short-lived periods of sugar.
Here in the misty uplands of Kalae, Molokai, at 1,500 feet, a German by the name of R.W. Meyer opened a simple sugar mill in 1878, and harvested 30 acres of sugar with nothing but steam and mules. Though the mill only lasted until 1889, it’s one of the best-preserved examples of Hawaii’s early sugar industry, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
You can visit the mill as part of a visit to the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center, where newspapers, photos, and documentary videos help showcase scenes from Molokai over the last 150 years. Of particular note are the videos and newspapers on life in Kalaupapa, where people with Hansen’s disease were sent to live out their days on the isolated peninsula. Hear the stories of patients who made a life at the base of the cliffs, and dealt with the daily struggle of loss and separation from loved ones.
If you don’t have the time to visit Kalaupapa and tour the settlement itself, the displays at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center will take you closer to this era in history than anywhere else in Hawaii. The Center also offers a charming gift shop featuring locally crafted wares.
The Molokai Museum and Cultural Center is open from 10am-2pm Monday-Saturday and has a $5 admission for adults. Average time to visit the museum is a little bit over an hour.