As whaling began to die in Lahaina in the mid 1860's, a new industry arose to take its place - sugar.
Ever since 1862, the Pioneer Mill Company had planted and milled sugar cane in the Lahaina area of West Maui. At its peak over 45,000 tons of sugar cane was produced from over 5000 harvested acres annually. In 1910, approximately 1,600 laborers were employed by Pioneer Mill, half of whom were contract laborers.
Unable to compete with low sugar prices from foreign markets and claiming losses of over $9 million in its final six years, Amfac/JMB Hawaii decided to close the plant in 1999.
The Pioneer Mill processed its last harvest in the fall of 1999 and the sugar industry ended in West Maui. Today, some fields lay bare and subject to erosion, resulting in occasional dust storms.
Other fields are being converted to Hawaii's new cash crop of coffee, or are being used for more diversified agriculture. Some parcels of land, which were leased, have been returned to its owners, including the Bishop Estate.
Where once plantation camps stood, where workers and their families scratched out a subsistence lifestyle, modern subdivisions now stand.
An integral part of the sugar industry in Hawaii for over one hundred years were railroads.
At one time, thirty-three industrial railroads existed in Hawaii, hauling mostly sugar cane to the mills and plantation workers between the fields and their homes. In addition, seven common carrier railroads carried passengers and freight. Today, like many of the sugar plantations and mills, little is left of these original railroads.
It is still possible to get a feel for what things were like when sugar was grown in West Maui by riding the Sugar Cane Train in West Maui.