Looking Back at Old Plantation
For countless generations, Hawaiians of old created a thriving slice of paradise amid the grounds that currently house Ward Village. Under the ahapuaa‘a—a land-division system that partitioned the island and allowed for communities to work and prosper together—there stood a small sliver of marshland known as the ‘ili of Kukuluae‘o. Here, among the expansive salt pans that fronted the vast Pacific ocean, long-legged Hawaiian stilt birds known as Ae‘o thrived alongside early Hawaiians. In this carefully orchestrated cultural system, a harmonious existence ensued among native peoples for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
In the decades following Western contact in the mid-18th century, the islands underwent rapid change and the land-division system that once bound society had been lost. By the mid-19th century, Honolulu had become a strategic port and central hub for the whaling industry that prowled the waters of Polynesia and beyond. For all intents and purposes, life near the ports and present day Downtown was abuzz with activity during the mid-to-late 1800s.
However, the land located directly east of Honolulu that compromises present day Ward Village was still considered fairly rural. So when C.P. Ward and his wife Victoria, a well-known young power couple who frequently rubbed elbows with the monarchy and Honolulu high society, purchased 100 acres in hopes of building a sprawling plantation, many of their counterparts were reportedly shocked.
Why would they would choose to live so far removed from the heart of the city? Because they had a shared vision to create something dynamic; they yearned to build an oasis in the city where they could grow a family. Soon, there vision would bear fruit. Their new home, which they dubbed Old Plantation, was to be designed and built by a prominent architect named C.J. Wall who was simultaneously constructing Iolani Palace for King Kalakaua and his sister and eventual successor to the crown, Queen Lili‘uokalani. Architecture enthusiasts will note that the buildings shared many of the same characteristics and charms. It’s been said that many of the carpenters that worked on the Old Plantation also worked on the Palace. Once Old Plantation was completed in 1881, the mansion would host soirees, galas, and luau for Honolulu’s most influential dignitaries and visitors. It was home to more than 7,000 coconut trees and stables for horses and included a large fishpond that was stocked with amaama and aholehole and was fed by a stream that reportedly produced some of the freshest water in the city. According to a family historian and the Hawaiian Heritage Foundation, “Queen Emma loved the cool water from the Wards’ artesian well and would stop to drink out of kaio leaves folded into cups.” Most importantly, just as they dreamed, Old Plantation was also a home for their growing family, which now included seven beautiful young girls.
In 1882, tragedy struck when C.P. suddenly fell and passed away. In the wake of his demise, many in the city wondered whether the recently widowed Victoria would be able to carry on the extensive demands of running the massive plantation, along with raising her seven daughters. Proof of her business savvy and grit, Victoria and her family tirelessly worked to create a sustained, prosperous income from Old Plantation. Where there was room to monetize existing assets and create a business relationship, Victoria found a way. Family ledgers take note of how many pounds of salt were sold to local vendors, how many chickens and coconuts were headed to market, and how many fish and livestock were sold each month to feed a rapidly growing Honolulu. Old Plantation had found its footing and would thrive for decades to come, eventually giving rise to Victoria Ward, Ltd. and present-day Ward Village.
In 1935, Victoria passed away at home in Old Plantation, the flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii flying over her bed would be her last sight. In her wake, the responsibilities of Old Plantation fell to her daughters. In the decades that followed, Old Plantation began to lose its luster and fell victim to its battle against time. By the late 1950s, after the last of the remaining Ward sisters passed away, the city purchased the grounds in hopes of creating a new hub for the arts and entertainment. The building would go on to become the Blaisdell Center and Concert Hall. However, to those that can recall the once illustrious grounds of Old Plantation, the legacy of this proud family and the place that they once called home endures.
“They were the last of our ali‘i,” an unnamed Hawaiian man recalled in the book, Victoria Ward and Her Family written by Frank Ward Hustace III. “We were proud of them, and when they grew old, we began to feel our own age, too.”