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History engages. Stories entertain.

At Grove Farm Museum, we do both.


Explore our interactive timeline about how sugarcane came to flourish on Kauai among different generations and cultures. Learn why three generations of the Wilcox family are deeply interwoven into local history.


Sugarcane Before Sugar

Sugarcane, a tropical grass, was one of the canoe plants that arrived in Hawaii with the Polynesians as sustenance on their long voyages. Native Hawaiians cultivated multiple varieties of sugarcane, or kō, to utilize in food and medicine.

Children today: fairly warned that too much sugar will rot their teeth 


Hawaiian children: chewed sugarcane stalks as treats because the tough fibers and pulp strengthen gums and teeth

600-1000 A.D.


Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot in Hawaii


Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands


The first Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii


The first successful sugarcane plantation in Hawaii was started by Ladd and Company in Koloa, Kauai.


The Great Mahele - Kamehameha III sought to keep the land in Hawaiian hands with this land division but in a tragic twist the people received less than 1% because of the law’s stipulations and the foreign concept of land ownership.


The Hawaiian population was devastated by diseases brought by foreigners. By 1953 it had diminshed from 300,000 when Cook arrived to 70,000.


The Roots of the Sugar Industry

For centuries Hawaiians thrived in a self-sustainable culture, living close to the land and preserving resources. At a turning point when the western-introduced whaling and sandalwood industries were declining and foreign ownership of land was made possible — sugar plantations took root.

From a German Businessman to George

A German immigrant named Hermann A. Widemann started one of the first sugarcane plantations in Hawaii. He named it Grove Farm after the large grove of kukui trees that he chopped down to prepare the land. Widemann did not have success generating enough water for the sugarcane crops.


After hiring George Norton Wilcox as a land surveyor and irrigation ditch supervisor, Widemann leased and later sold his property to George.

Farmer > Businessman > Politician

Widemann and his Hawaiian wife moved to Honolulu where he served as a judge and member of the cabinet of the Kingdom of Hawaii. His path from planting to politics is one George would later follow, albeit reluctantly.



George Norton Wilcox (1839-1933)

Kauai’s Sugar Pioneer and Innovative Engineer

George Norton Wilcox transformed a parched piece of land into a sugarcane operation that flourished and expanded for over a century. As the son of missionary teachers, Abner and Lucy Wilcox, he was born and raised at Waioli Mission House in Hanalei. His first job as clerk and bookkeeper for William Harrison Rice’s plantation store in Lihue ignited his interest in the nuanced demands of sugar cultivation.


After studying engineering at Sheffield Scientific School (Yale), George, known as G.N. acquired Widemann’s arid land in 1864. He introduced an innovative irrigation system that surpassed basic irrigation ditch attempts. He successfully brought mountain water to lower elevations to satisfy thirsty sugarcane crops. G.N.'s ingenious idea, born from necessity and a resourceful mind, became a blueprint that he shared with other planters across the island in community spirit. 


He worked as a tax collector, road supervisor, surveyor, and postmaster in Lihue in addition to working on the plantation in order to pay off the debt of his investment. By the age of 35 he was one of the most successful planters in the islands.


G.N. Wilcox's Spirit of Innovation

Throughout his 70 years running Grove Farm, G.N. Wilcox incorporated a constant infusion of cutting-edge technology — a tradition that carried on after he died in 1933. 


Implemented an innovative irrigation system


Replaced oxen with steam plows


First to install a telephone line on the island


One of the first to import an automobile to Kauai


Took his first airplane ride from Kauai to Oahu at the age of 91


First computer processing system 





Gilbert Islanders








Spanish & Portugese


Puerto Ricans



“Then this unique assortment of men sat down with lunch pails, or drove home to dinner. Some of them had jelly sandwiches, some had rice balls for lunch, some had Chinese noodles. Some of them chatted in Filipino, some in Japanese. They gossiped in the earthy language of laboring men, in the precise terms of mathematical equations, in the sophisticated jargon of finance.”


- Grove Farm Plantation, by Krauss & Alexander

Workers from all over the world

George struggled to find workers, until a Hawaiian man named Pikau showed up to help, followed by a Chinese man called Kaipu who skillfully dug the tunnel for the irrigation system. While George worked alongside the men on the irrigation ditch, he hired half a dozen Hawaiian women to do the first planting. Initially, Grove Farm's workforce was 25% Hawaiians which was considerably higher than most other plantations that had only 5%.

Grove Farm quickly became home to a diverse workforce that grew and shifted. Over the years labor was sourced from all over the world.


Miss Mabel Wilcox (1882-1978)

Kauai's First Public Health Nurse


No one knew Kauai people,

their homes, their needs as she did.

- Ethel Damon

Mabel I. Wilcox served Kauai for 50 years, shaping healthcare reforms to improve the everyday health of the population, especially women and children.


Mabel, affectionately known as "Miss Mabel", was born and raised at Grove Farm as the youngest of Sam Wilcox and Emma Lyman Wilcox’s six children. Her father Sam was sheriff of Kauai for 25 years, and her uncle, George, contributed to the local community through the sugar industry, politics, technology, and infrastructure.


Due to her mother's frail health, Mabel was determined to become a nurse, despite her parent's disapproval. With quiet determination, she waited 6 years until she was allowed to attend nursing school. She went on to be the first public health nurse on Kauai.

At a time when tuberculosis was the most feared disease and high infant mortality was one of the greatest uncertainties of life, she spearheaded the building of Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, Kauai’s TB sanatorium. Miss Mabel was later paramount in establishing the G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital. 

During World War I she volunteered for Red Cross duty and was sent to France where she was a head nurse charged with emergency care of women and children in Le Havre. Her nursing experiences in France prepared her for maternal and child health programs in Hawaii. 


Mabel recieved her RN degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital nursing school in Baltimore at a time when only 2.8% of women in the U.S. received a college education. 


Accepted assignment to begin and head the Territorial Board of Health’s anti-tuberculosis (TB) campaign on Kauai when TB was the most feared disease. She was the only Board of Health nurse on the island and served approximately 5,000 people, often on foot or horseback.


Volunteered for Red Cross duty during World War I, and was sent to France as a head nurse charged with emergency care of women and children in Le Havre. 


Returned to Kauai, was recognized by the Queen of Belgium and the mayor of Le Havre for her service.


Paramount to establishing the G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue.


Retired from public health nursing and administration, but remained actively involved at Samuel Mahelona Memorial hospital and G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital. 


Miss Elsie Wilcox (1879-1954)

First Female Senator in The Territory of Hawaii 

Elise H. Wilcox, the third child of Sam and Emma Wilcox, received her formal education at Punahou School and Wellesley College, obtaining a degree in education. She pioneered a significant role in Hawaii's history, starting as Kauai’s Commissioner of Education for 12 years. She became the first woman in the Territorial Senate, elected in 1932 and 1936. 


Embodying the values passed down by her missionary grandparents, Abner and Lucy Wilcox, and mother, she held a deep conviction in the importance of education and the virtue of Christian charity. 


Her impactful contributions to education were further commemorated with the naming of the Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School in Lihue. This institution stands as a testament to Miss Elsie's enduring legacy and commitment to advancing education in the community.


Wilcox Family Traditions

Getting Involved and Giving Back

Multiple generations of the Wilcox family called Grove Farm home. George, his brother Sam and his wife and 6 children lived on the property over the course of a century. Many of George's extended family members were notable figures in the island community and shared the family's spirit of service and giving back. 


Well-behaved women rarely make history...until they do. 
At a time when women were often limited to domestic duties, Miss Mabel and Miss Elsie were both dedicated to public service throughout their lives. They were not rebellious, brazen women, yet they respectfully went against the social norms of the time and both created lasting impacts on Kauai. 

G.N. and his nieces Mabel and Elsie all remained unmarried with no children, got deeply involved in their community and gave back generously. 



We are grateful for your contributions that help us preserve and share the history of this beautiful island for future generations and visitors alike. 


Grove Farm Museum is a proud member of the Waioli Corporation's collection

of historic sites. Learn about Waioli Foundation and the connections between Grove Farm, Waioli Mission House, Mahamoku Beach House, and the Historic Train Collection.


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