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Moʻolelo (Stories)

Queen Emma’s Cottage in Lāwa‘i Valley

Category: Kauaʻi History
Theme: Engineering
Author: Hank Soboleski
From: Lāwaʻi

This article describes how Hanalei-raised George Norton Wilcox, who led Grove Farm from 1864 until he died in 1933, helped to irrigate Queen Emma’s home at Mauna Kilohana. It was originally published in the Monday, October 7, 2019 issue of The Garden Island. Longtime Kaua‘i resident Hank Soboleski shared the island’s history with the newspaper, which can be found here and here.

During Queen Emma’s sojourn on Kaua‘i during December 1870 through April 1871, she resided at Mauna Kilohana, which was located within the 4,200-acre ahupuaʻa of Lāwa‘i deeded to her by her aunt Hikoni.

Emma’s home at Mauna Kilohana was a frame house with a thatched roof situated atop the bluff on the Koloa side of Lāwa‘i Valley, overlooking Lāwa‘i Bay.

During her stay at Mauna Kilohana, Queen Emma asked William O. Smith and George Norton Wilcox to construct a water ditch to transform its arid pastureland into a garden, and the trio then located an upland water source on horseback.

Smith and Wilcox engineered the ditch, and men hired to build it were supplied with tools, blasting powder, and plenty of beer to ‘warm the men and make the work go faster,’ according to Emma.

By March 11, 1871, water reached her house at Mauna Kilohana.

Later in 1871, Emma leased her Lāwa‘i land to Duncan McBryde. In 1886, the year following her death, Duncan McBryde’s wife, Elizabeth McBryde, purchased the ahupuaʻa of Lāwa‘i for $5,000 at an auction held to pay off the queen’s debts.

Their son, Alexander McBryde, was granted the lower lands of Lāwa‘i in 1899.

And, in the early 1900s, with sugarcane about to be planted at Mauna Kilohana, Alexander McBryde cut Emma’s house into sections, had it carefully lowered over the pali onto the valley floor, where it became known as Queen Emma’s Cottage, and lived in it for a time.

When wealthy philanthropist Robert Allerton bought the lower part of Lāwa‘i in 1938, he preserved the cottage.

Queen Emma’s Cottage is now part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.