George W.C. Jones

A prolific businessman, George W.C. Jones was the one-time proprietor of both the Volcano House hotel and the Kahuku Ranch, in addition to being involved in the pulu trade, all of which play a part in the history of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Black and white portrait of George WC Jones
George W.C. Jones (Photo: Honolulu Advertiser, 25 Nov 1903, p 5)

In his 72 years, George Jones was a “forty-niner,” a sailor, an entrepreneur, an innkeeper, a rancher, and a father to 12 children! Born in New York City in 1831, he left home at age 18, one of the California gold rush “forty-niners.” After amassing an amount of wealth in those endeavors, he “shipped before the mast” (meaning he sailed as a common seaman) in 1855 to Honolulu. There he met his future wife Harriet Neddles Gilman, who was the daughter of a high Chiefess (Harriet Kapu Kawahaea).

The couple went to live at Keauhou Landing in Kaʻū, about 15 miles south of Kīlauea. At Keauhou Landing he went into the pulu business (referring to the soft fiber from the hapuʻu fern used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses) with an American named King and Judge George Anson Byron Kaina of Hilo.

Meanwhile, noticing that there were no accommodations for visitors to the “lake of fire” at Kīlauea, he saw an opportunity, and in 1866 with Charles and Jules Richardson built the first Voicano House of koa and ʻōhiʻa wood with a thatched roof of pili grass. None other than Mark Twain wrote, “The surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish place startled me more than the volcano did!”, during his visit to Kīlauea. In 1877, Jones bought out his partnersʻ interests and became the sole owner of the hotel.

In 1871, Jones, with the Richardsons and Kaina, bought the Kahuku Ranch, at that time encompassing the entire the ahupuaʻa of Kahuku (184,298 acres). The hospitality of Kahuku Ranch during Jonesʻ tenure was well known and always extended to visitors, whether friends or total strangers. Some of the more well-known visitors were Charles R. Bishop, Sanford Dole, Prince Leleiohoku (King Kalākauaʻs brother), Princess Kaʻiulani and her mother Princess Likelike.

The Mauna Loa eruption of 1887 created a flood of sight-seers to the ranch, and two weeks after the eruption they were still coming. In a letter to his son-in-law Jones wrote, “The place is overrun with crowds. Every place filled and even the native places crowded with haoles. Have had 20 strangers here to provide for all the time – one party leaving and the other arriving... There is no place free from the intrusion of the crowds... The privy, my wifeʻs room and even my office would be occupied as soon there was a door open."

His obituary in the Honolulu Advertiser on November 25th, 1903, noted, "When the great lava flow of 1887 crossed his premises at Kahuku, Mr. Jones put on record intelligent data of the eruption and attendant earthquakes, sending some of them promptly to the Honolulu press.”

Last updated: February 18, 2021

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