Honokaa has a wealth of historical resources that can be used to improve its economy and maintain its sense as a unique community. The town has the largest collection of early 20th century “plantation” style commercial stores in good repair that remain in the islands. These designs are virtually gone from plantations on Oʻahu, Maui and Kauai, but have widely been copied elsewhere as false fronts on non-historic buildings. Honokaa is a remaining Big Island example of a community formed by successive waves of ethnic immigrants, their climb to economic success and the “American Dream,” and the part they played in enriching the broader cultural diversity of Hawaiʻi. Honokaa is further distinguished by not being a mono-enterprise town, with only one company or one crop. Owing to consecutive and overlapping trends of sugar cane, macadamia nut, ranching, and coffee, the town has maintained its vitality throughout cyclical and structural economic shifts. Nowhere else in the state can so many historic industries be found in such close proximity. Honokaa provides visitors and residents of Hawaiʻi the opportunity to learn about the development of the region, and the whole state in microcosm, while exploring among the buildings and businesses of Honokaa's main street and interacting with the people of this still-vibrant town.
The Historic Honokaa Town Project is an effort by local residents and dedicated friends of the town to celebrate Honokaa and help foster employment, boost cultural tourism in the region, and provide visitors with a richer experience of the Hawaiian plantation town, all while preserving the unique character and historical resources of the area. Many members of the project have backgrounds in historic preservation, and with the community's help are working with private and federal programs designed to aid small historic rural communities that have proven very successful across the United States. These programs are based upon low-impact cultural tourism which emphasizes the unique heritage resources such as architecture, customs, and ceremonies. The program involves historic research, rehabilitating the towns buildings, encouraging new enterprises, and promoting Honokaa to visitors.
With both public and private assistance the project has already produced an extensive history of Honokaa, begun painting and repair of historic buildings, started placing individual buildings on the Hawaiʻi Register of Historic Places, and erected points of interest signs on area highways directing people to Honokaa. The project will soon begin erecting historic markers on individual buildings, telling the casual visitor a little about them in the context of Hawaiʻi's history. Honokaa is a wonderful place with warm people, unique culture, and standing Territorial-Era buildings that cannot be appreciated elsewhere. Come check it out!