story by Michael Shapiro
photo by Michael Shapiro
If you were a paniolo in 19th-century Kona and you needed to stock up on Dr. A.C. Daniels’ Worm Powder for Horses, you’d saddle up and head over to Henry Greenwell’s store. At 75 cents a bottle, the powder was a little pricey, but keeping your horse healthy then was like taking care of your car now—an expensive necessity. While you’re there, you might pick up a bottle of Ayer’s Hair Vigor (the ladies do like vigorous hair), some new strings for your machete (the erstwhile Portuguese nickname for the ‘ukulele), and, if you’re tired of ‘ahi, some genuine Grand Bank codfish.
At the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum on Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua, those items are still on display if not for actual sale. The store, built in 1875, has been lovingly restored to look just as it might have in the 1890s, when it served the ranching families of the Kona district. From the label art on the cans of St. George Oxford Sausage to the leather harnesses dangling from the ceiling joists (handmade for the museum by the Amish), to the (empty) bottles of strychnine used to control the feral dogs that once picked off livestock, the museum offers visitors a glimpse of 19th- century Hawai‘i. “This is an untold story,” says Maile Melrose, a great-granddaughter of Henry and Elizabeth Greenwell. “In the late 1800s, Kona was changing, the economy was diversifying, and Henry Greenwell is at the forefront of it all.”
The museum is also the first living history exhibit in Hawai‘i where visitors learn history not only by observing it but interacting with it by playing the roles of 19th-century shoppers and trading with the store’s costumed interpreters, many of whom, like Maile Melrose, are direct descendants of the Greenwells and their neighbors. The museum is the culmination of fifteen years worth of research and restoration. “It’s a great way to learn about history,” says Ku‘ulani Auld of the Kona Historical Society. “It’s interactive, it’s entertaining. There’s nothing like it in Hawai‘i.”
H.N. Greenwell Store Museum