"There's a place that's near heaven, majestic and rare. A place of such splendor that none can compare, where my cup with sweet rapture to o'er flowing fills. It's a place of enchantment called Echoing Hills." Those words and more were put to music by some folks after they attended a Christian retreat more than sixty years ago at a bit of paradise called Pu'u Kahea. This fourteen acre property used as a conference and retreat center by the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention since 1949, is located on the leeward coast of Oahu in the community of Waianae, about 30 miles west of Honolulu. It has a fascinating history begging to be told.
The origins of the place are inexplicably tied to the history of Hawaii and the sugar cane industry. The derivation of the name Pu'u Kahea is unclear. According to one writer, the Hawaiian term is translated "hill to call upon God," another "echoing hills." Legends point to the possibility that it came from the name of an ancient sacred place (heiau) where a pagan prophet of the time, Kaupoulupulu, resisted the devices of a ruthless and malevolent ruler named Kahahana. Archeological surveys point to the presence of two sacred sites, one dedicated to rain another to a shark god, which once occupied part of the conference grounds. When the prophet resisted the efforts of Kahahana, ruler of Oahu between 1773 and 1781, to restore these sites, Kaupoulupulu and his son, Kahulupue, were detained by messengers of Kahahana. After watching his son being beaten, the father "called" to his son to take his own life, making a prophecy that those who were coming over the sea would conquer the island soon. That site where the father called to his son was called pu'uhea. The site was called "Pu'u Ka Hea" when it was advertised for sale in 1948. That is the earliest known source of the use of that term. Frederick Meyer, the most prominent of the residents, 1899-1919, never used that term. In all likelihood, someone applied the term to the property prior to the sale of the property and after 1919, perhaps a later manager.
The Waianae Sugar Plantation, chartered in 1878, was the first major sugar operation on Oahu. A German entrepreneur, Hermann A. Widemann leased a large tract of more than 6,000 acres from Royal lands for 25 years and with a considerable bankroll, hired a manager, Julius Lynn Richardson, a Vermont native. Sixty acres were cleared for the installation of a sugar mill which was built in Scotland and transported to Hawaii aboard whaling ships. It was moved ashore in parts by way of small railroad cars on a tramway especially built for the project. Once ashore it was assembled by an engineer from Honolulu. The mill stood directly in front of the present Waianae Protestant Congregational Church on Mill Street in Waianae. The current church building was constructed in 1913 to replace an older structure built in 1847. In January, 1880, the boilers of the mill were fired up and dignitaries from Honolulu made the day- long journey from Honolulu to admire the operation. Bricklayer Thomas Walker had built a square smokestack that soared skyward 110 feet. By 1884, Waianae was Oahu's second largest community sporting several stores, two churches, two schools, and a club house. Beginning in 1885, weekly mail service was established, an overland route leaving Honolulu at 10 AM every Monday and a steamer delivery on Friday afternoon. Eighty acres of sugar cane was the meager beginning of an enterprise that would last 68 years and forever change the Waianae coast.