It was early (for us) on a Saturday morning, and we headed off to the cove at the Paia end of Baldwin Beach, colloquially known as Lime Kiln.
It was a lovely day, blue sky, white puffy clouds and a nice breeze to leaven the heat. The water was a cool, clear aquamarine, the swells swimmable but not too scary.
I was basking in the shade of an ironwood tree when the snorkeler in our duo came up with a great discovery: railroad tracks under the water!
We swam out to just beyond the rocks of the point, a little east of the Montana Beach house, and there they were - long straight metal rails with a few remaining horizontal ties, overgrown with coral but nevertheless intriguing evidence of the days when a lime kiln for Maui Agricultural Co. operated in that vicinity.
I was intrigued by this fragmentary window into Maui's past and decided to consult an expert. This was Upcountry stalwart Bill Bates, St. Anthony Class of '61, owner of a landscaping business, and whose father, Walter A. Bates, was division overseer of Keahua, Pulehu and Pukalani districts for MACo.
The family lived at Sunnyside - that choice area stretching from Kaluanui to Rainbow Gulch - and Bill has many happy memories of Paia when it was just a sleepy town and plantation managers were given beach houses near the bay.
He accompanied me to Baldwin Beach one morning to see what he could recall of the days when his father drove him and his older brother Michael, now living on the Big Island, down to check on the lime kiln. They entered via a cane road near where the Paia Youth Center is.
The kiln was visible from the beach park's pavilion, which supervisors built during the labor strike of 1946 and named for Harry A. Baldwin, MACo's popular boss, who died later that year.
The pavilion replaced an earlier structure damaged by the April Fool's Day tidal wave of the same year. It was for the use of supervisors (they lived the life of Riley, of course), but workers could obtain it for special events like weddings.
Bill looked down the beach, envisioning the old kiln. "It was a big, two-story structure with corrugated siding with timbers holding it up, and it was all white from the lime."
The lime was made by burning coral in a furnace back of the building. It was essential in the sugar-making process and the manufacture of cement, used as well for sanitation and as a soil additive. The finished product was sold all over Hawaii - well into the '70s - in bags with a MACo label.
We walked to the middle of the beach, past the Montana Beach house, and discovered that our timing was good. The waves had cut a sand cliff, revealing at the water's edge a 5-foot-long concrete slab, perhaps the side of a footing.
In those days, the beach was much wider than it is now, and the rocks forming the little cove had not yet been set in place. Nor were there ironwoods.
Bill recalled that little gondola cars such as those used in a mine rode on tracks out into the water. A drag line and a bucket went out and scooped up the coral. A winch was used to reel it in. A rail line led back to Paia Mill. In the old days, a workers' camp called Lime Kiln stood nearby.
Here's the history. In 1906, an expanded sugar factory at Paia went into service with a state-of-the-art nine-roller Cora mill. This kept working, with modifications, until the mill closed a little over a decade ago.
At that time, the old sugar factory at Hamakuapoko in 1878 was closed and some of the equipment incorporated into the new plant. (The exotic ruins of this early mill, slowly being devoured by a banyan tree, still lurk in a cane field like a set from a Harrison Ford movie.)
The lime kiln was built in 1907 to prevent possible disruption of Mainland supply of the important substance. In part for this decision, MACo earned a reputation as "the most progressive plantation company in the islands."
I don't know when the old lime kiln was taken down. Like so many important facets of Maui's past, little now remains except the name.
It's funny," said Bill. "There's no evidence of it."
* 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.