LAHAINA - The bell in the belfry of Hale Aloha tolled last month, resounding through Lahaina town for the first time in nearly six decades.
"It's really loud," said Kate Bahr, program director for the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. "It definitely wakes up the neighborhood."
The refurbished bell, of the same design and made by the same foundry as the original bell, was blessed and rung at a Feb. 11 gathering of more than 75 people. The "sister bell" was the final piece in the most recent restoration of the building, originally built in 1824.
The restoration of Hale Aloha in Lahaina was completed last month with the hanging of the bell in the belfry.
It cannot be said that Hale Aloha was built to withstand the elements and the test of time. The original structure on Luakini Street had adobe walls and a ti-leaf-thatched roof - the building was called Hale Lai, or ti-leaf house. Lahaina residents used Hale Lai as a school and community meeting hall.
Heavy rains melted the adobe walls to mud, leading the members of Waine'e Church, the predecessor of Waiola Church, to rebuild with stone and timber beginning in 1855. The Rev. Dwight Baldwin, missionary pastor of Waine'e Church, led the three-year construction effort with church members providing the manpower, according to a Historic American Buildings Survey in 1966.
The building was renamed in 1858 "in thanks to their God for saving the people of Lahaina from the small pox epidemic which had devastated Oahu," said a news release about the blessing of the bell.
The small pox outbreak had led to 1,500 deaths on Oahu by October of 1853, according to Gaven Daws in "Shoal of Time." Deaths on Maui, Hawaii and Kauai totaled at least another 450 people. Many of those stricken were Native Hawaiians, who had not built up a resistance to the disease.
The new Hale Aloha was used for church and prayer meetings. On Dec. 14, 1862, the Episcopalian mission used the building for its first formal services in Lahaina, said the 1966 survey, prepared by Cecilia J. Gorokhoff, a research assistant with the foundation.
From 1873 to 1892, Hale Aloha was leased to the government for the Lahaina Union School, according to the foundation. When the school moved, the building fell into disrepair.
Members of Waine'e Church resolved in 1908 to rebuildHale Alohafor use as a parish hall. Hale Aloha was described as the "finest hall in the famous seaport town of Lahaina," according to information from the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. The building also was used as a chapel for Waine'e Church's English-language services.
In 1910, the women of Waine'e Church completed their fundraising for a new bell and belfry for Hale Aloha.The belfry would stand until 1951, when strong Kauaula winds blew the roof off the belfry and knocked down the bell. The bell was recovered and taken to Waiola Church, where it can be found today on the church front lawn.
By 1973, Hale Aloha had deteriorated once again and was roofless and floorless.
"It was pretty bad," said Bahr.
The historic building once again was revived, this time led by government officials. The Maui County Historic Commission and the Maui County Planning Department obtained a preservation grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department for $100,700, which was matched by the state and county governments.
The site was purchased by the county, restoration plans and specifications were drawn up, and the building was made structurally sound over the next decade.
With about 40 percent of the restoration plans complete, the foundation struck an agreement with the county to lease the site and complete the work at the foundation's expense, said Bahr.
A new bell tower, funded in part by gifts from two directors of the foundation, was completed in 1996 and is an exact replica of the 1910 structure. Major restoration of the exterior stonework was completed in 1996, the foundation Web site said.
Hale Aloha was leased to a local framing company, which undertook at its own cost the redesign of the interior. The building has been vacant for several years, and the foundation is looking for a new tenant. All rent and fees collected will go back into the preservation of Hale Aloha, said Bahr.
As the final touches were being put on Hale Aloha, efforts to replace the bell were under way. It wasn't easy.
Terry Morgan, operations manager for the foundation, searched and searched for a dozen years before recently coming across the "sister bell" at Brosamer's Bells inMichigan, a bell broker.The bell was manufactured by the same foundry, C.S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio; made in the same year and of the same design as the original bell.
The foundation bought the bell for $8,000 including shipping and installation. Jim Ward donated his services to hang the new bell in December.
On Feb. 11, Kahu Earl Kukahiko offered a blessing for the bell and Hale Aloha. Morgan let the bell ring for the first time in 58 years.
"As its glorious sound filled the air, tears ran down the faces of those who have unwearyingly anticipated this moment," the foundation Web site said about the blessing. "It was an awesome tribute to a landmark that has given so much to Lahaina's history and continues to be a vital part of its essence."
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.