Sugar Museum Celebrates Anniversary

A sweet little attraction on Maui is celebrating a big year.

By: Marty Wentzel

A sweet little attraction on Maui is celebrating a big year.

Not only is the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum turning 15 years old, but the building housing it has hit the century mark. At the same time, the museum is honoring 100 years of cane grinding at the adjacent Puunene Mill, Hawaii’s largest sugar factory.

According to Gaylord Kubota, the A&B Sugar Museum director, the attraction draws 30,000 people per year.

“Many visitors wonder how they get sugar from cane,” Kubota said. “The museum shows them what it took in the old days to cultivate, harvest and process sugar cane and how it’s done today.”

In honor of its multiple anniversaries, the museum introduced a 10-minute video of a mill tour and a description of how cane is turned into sugar. It installed a new exhibit with photographs and historic documents relating to the museum building. And, it opened a new living exhibit of 15 varieties of native Hawaiian sugar cane, some of which are rare and colorful.

The sugar industry played a key role in Hawaii’s multiethnic population, as people from around the world came to the islands to work in the fields.

“People learned how to get along with one another, and that community spirit remains very strong,” Kubota said. “People still hold reunions today.”

The museum is housed in the refurbished residence of the superintendent of the Puunene Sugar Mill, dating back to 1902. It has received several awards for preservation and for the transformation of a residence into a museum.

Dramatic touches include a floor-to-ceiling photomural that makes the most of a 12-foot-high ceiling.

Walk-in closets have been converted into exhibit cases, and a display interpreting mill construction has been placed strategically in front of the large picture window facing the mill.

The 2,000-square-foot museum has six exhibit rooms touching on different aspects of the sugar industry.

The Geography Room, for instance, shows how Maui’s landscape and weather influenced the development of the sugar industry. The Water Room depicts how water was brought from the island’s windward slopes to the sunny central isthmus.

The Human Resources Room discusses the pioneers of Maui’s modern sugar industry, with artifacts of immigrant plantation workers. The Plantation Room has photos and exhibits of plantation life and includes a scale model of a worker’s camp house.

In the Field Room, clients see displays of survey equipment, a cane knife and other typical personal items of field workers.

The Mill Room’s interactive displays include a 1915 locomotive bell and a working scale model of a cane-crushing machinery.

Outside, visitors can get a close-up look at some of the equipment used by plantation workers.

The museum’s gift shop offers locally inspired gifts and souvenirs, including sugar cane stalks and sticks.

The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum is open Monday through Saturday year-round, except on major holidays. It is open on Sundays seasonally.

Admission is $5 per adult and $2 for children ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and under are admitted free.

Call 808-871-8058.