The origins of Paia as a community date to 1880 when Alexander and Baldwin established a sugar mill here. A company store opened in 1896, but it was not until 1905, with the construction of the present mill and the relocation of some of the Spreckelsville sugar operations to this area, that the town grew and prospered. At this time, the railway linked the town with the harbor at Kahului. The town was distinctly divided into two sections: upper Paia, along Baldwin Avenue, owned by the plantation; and lower Paia along Hana Highway, which was privately owned and operated. A fire swept through lower Paia on July 6, 1930, destroying fifteen stores and a number of ancillary structures. Much of today's streetscape along Hana Highway resulted from the rebuilding that followed. During the 1930s, the population of the town soared to more than 10,000, approximately one-fifth of Maui's population. The tsunami of 1946 inundated Paia, destroying a number of buildings on the side of town closest to Kahului. With the centralization of plantation housing to “Dream City” (Kahului) during the 1950s, the population dropped to approximately 1,500. The town lost much of its vitality, which the advent of wind surfing in the 1980s has helped to restore.
Much of Paia's historic character remains, making it the finest example of a plantation town on the island, with its high concentration of structures within a block or two of the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue. One-and two-story vernacular buildings line the streets on both sides for several blocks. Wood is the primary building material, but some masonry construction also occurred and false fronts abound.
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