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Formed by a single volcano (1.3 million years ago), this low-lying island is blocked from the rain-bearing trade winds by the west Maui mountains; it receives less than thirty-seven inches of rain per year. Lanai was largely un-inhabited until the sixteenth century, although it was visible from five neighboring islands. Measuring approximately thirteen miles by eighteen miles, it is the sixth largest of the Hawaiian Islands in terms of size and population. Heavy soil erosion, the result of overgrazing in the nineteenth century by cattle, feral goats, and axis deer, gives parts of the island a desertlike appearance and settlement remains centered in Lanai City.

The Resolution, under the command of Captain Charles Clerke, following Captain James Cook's demise in 1779 at Kealakekua, was the earliest known foreign ship to encounter the island; for the next eighty years, the island attracted little attention from foreigners. Even the Protestant mission on the island was serviced only in an itinerant and intermittent manner. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints attempted to develop their headquarters, the City of Joseph, on the island in 1854, but this did not blossom until the church obtained the lands of Palawai in 1861, thanks to the efforts of Walter Murray Gibson. In 1864, when Gibson was excommunicated from the church, the brethren discovered that the lands, purchased with church funds, were in Gibson's name. He refused to relinquish the acreage, and developed his own private estate, primarily devoted to sheep ranching. Following his death, his daughter, Talulah, and her husband, Frederick Hayselden, inherited his lands and tried, unsuccessfully, to raise sugar cane. Charles Gay and his associates acquired the Hayseldens' large landholdings in 1901 and commenced cattle operations. By 1910, the island's population, which numbered 1,200 in 1838, had dwindled to 131. By 1922, it began to rise again when James Dole purchased 98 percent of the island and converted it to pineapple production.

Hawaiian Pineapple began planting pineapple in 1924, and eventually developed the island into the largest pineapple plantation in the world. The island's built environment and much of the landscape derive mainly from the post-1922 period. New Zealand naturalist George Munro, who managed the Gays' cattle ranch for a number of years, was responsible for introducing the numerous Cook Island pine trees, starting around 1918.

The island is currently owned by Lanai Company, a Castle and Cooke subsidiary, and their two resort hotels (LA10 and LA11) and adjoining real estate are the major generators of revenue. Tourism has increased the resident population almost 30 percent, rising from 2,300 in 1990 to approximately 3,200 by 2000. Visitors add another 853 persons per day to the demographic mix. However, the island remains extremely low-key, with just over thirty miles of paved roads and no traffic lights.

Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard

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