I had a bittersweet time a few weeks ago watching a friend sadly move out of the historic former HC&S manager's residence at Paholei. It's a divine property, makai of Hali'imaile, with a long, low rambling white house with two fireplaces on four of the most sublimely landscaped acres I've ever seen.
The home, with its big picture windows, looks out onto sparkling cane fields and the West Maui Mountains through a lawn with high old trees - showers, poinciana, a beautiful ghost eucalyptus, and tall plumeria, capable of flooding the ground overnight with the makings for dozens of lei.
In the backyard are all manner of fruit trees and an orchid house that once held a prize-winning collection. There was also once a rose garden.
Down the long plantation-era driveway, to the porte-cochere, I have been privileged to drive. Bev Gannon rented the place from A&B for eight years and hosted parties there at "The Sugar House." You'd bump down the cane road across from the old Maui Pineapple Co. headquarters into the past. I always felt so privileged to walk those grounds, so grateful that A&B had leased it in a manner the public could enjoy.
Best of all to see were the intact walls of the old Paholei sugar mill. It began operations in 1851 at Hali'imaile Plantation, created in 1849 by Judge Alfred W. Parsons on dryland forest sold by Kekau'onohi, a granddaughter of Kamehemeha I.
Stephen Reynolds was the next owner, then Charles Brewer II (Brewer Plantation), Gerrit Judd (Union Plantation during the Civil War period) and Thomas Hobron (Grove Ranch Plantation.) In 1889, Hobron sold to the Alexander & Baldwin plantation, which evolved into today's HC&S.
The house came into being in 1947 after the Spreckelsville home of Frank C. Churchill, assistant manager of HC&S, was destroyed in the tsunami of 1946. Churchill was unpopular but he and his wife turned a pig farm into a place of beauty.
According to a July 23, 1960, article in The Maui News, "They built a gracious, sweeping home and developed the gardens. The old mill became the center of the gardens, and the crumbling walls surround a paddle tennis court." The mill's window frames were made of sandalwood, Churchill's wife recalled, and some German-made steel frames, "good as new," and cisterns for water storage remained.
The Churchills embodied the old style, and that year opened the grounds to the Maui Historical Society for its "second annual benefit holoku tea and garden party." I grew up when holoku were the fashion, and women of my mother's generation rode on the reputations of their husbands.
I loved the photo of "Mrs. Walter Weight," winner of the grand prize for best holoku, posing in front of the mill wearing a lei of blue pheasant feathers. The Maui News went on, "posed in the crumbling arch of the Paholei Mill are, seated, Mrs. Eliza Smythe, Mrs. Sevath Boyum, and David Kahookele: standing, Mrs. Haupo Lai." The program featured the great 'Iolani Luahine "in a series of authentic ancient dances." Guests were encouraged to take pictures. It was all so quaint.
Richard Cameron, a former head of HC&S, and his wife, Fatima, were the last of the HC&S executives to occupy the home. Now the house has been sold, to young Europeans, I hear, and unless they open it to the public as well, someday this historic and beautiful estate will disappear, as so many have before it, behind locked gates, for the enjoyment of a few. Already a "No Trespassing, Beware of the Dog" sign has gone up.
(Note to homeowners with beautiful old trees: Please, please please don't let your landscaper prune them. Hire a qualified arborist. A person without training and proper equipment can and will ruin them forever.)
"It's such a treasure, the whole property. I've just felt so privileged to live here," said my friend Robin White, a teacher, who rented the four-bedroom, five-bath home with her sister Maile Getzen and their children.
Robin told me about the native wiliwili tree in the gulch and how she came out one morning to the glorious sight of 200 night-blooming cereus blooms wrapped around a eucalyptus tree.
"That's the thing about this place. It's so magical," she said. "That poinciana by the mill will be solid red. Then one by one the shower trees will bloom, the tacoma trees have little blossoms that float down. This year we have lychee....
"It's so hard to leave. I told them I'm going to leave a trail of tears all up the driveway."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.