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Excavation unearths possible links to Baldwin Home kitchen

Archaeologist Derek Butler (left) and Trevor Iliff dig and take measurements at the Baldwin home cookhouse Friday afternoon. The unnatural alignment of the rocks suggests that a foundation was made for the kitchen. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

LAHAINA — As the oldest remaining house on Maui, the preserved Baldwin Home is a dig away from uncovering long-buried history.

The Lahaina Restoration Foundation hopes to add to the Baldwin family’s story by verifying possible remains of their 19th century kitchen.

“History in a book is just kind of boring,” foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison said Friday afternoon. “If you actually bring it to life and put it out there and you invite people in, and it shows them, then they think, ‘Wow, this is really cool,’ and that’s what we really want.” 

Digging began Monday at the museum at 120 Dickenson St., and will continue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through March 27. 

So far, Morrison said archaeologists have found a fair amount of traditional foods, such as clam shells and opihi; shards of porcelain and a possible utensil; animal bones; and a bone button estimated to be from the mid-1800s. 

Lahaina Restoration Foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison points to a map that outlines the floor plans of the original Baldwin home complex, which included a study, a dining hall, mission store rooms, a seamen’s chapel and a cookhouse. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Research and verification are ongoing.

Originally, the public was welcome to help dig and sift through dirt. But in an effort to follow social distancing guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19, the public may now only view the outdoor excavation project. 

Morrison recently set up informational posters around the roped-off site to give visitors a better idea of what the 10-foot-by-15-foot cookhouse and milk room looked like back in the mid-1800s. 

“In a perfect world, if we could figure out the exact foundations, what we would like to do is to rebuild it using adobe bricks and making the adobe bricks,” Morrison said. “In my mind, we would have the community make the adobe bricks because it’s just mud and you put a filler inside, like pili grass, and then you just build them up like regular bricks.”

“We could really create the image of the cookhouse, which would add so much to this story of the Baldwin family,” she added. 

A conceptual drawing of what the Baldwins’ kitchen may have looked like is open for viewing outside the dig site. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

The Baldwin Home was built in 1834 of sand, coral and lava rock and is held up by a timber frame. Morrison said Lahaina used to have hundreds of adobe — dried mud brick — buildings that slowly fell down and were covered up.

The Rev. Dwight Baldwin and his family lived in the house from 1836 to 1868. There are references to an adobe kitchen in the backyard. But remnants of the kitchen may be beneath the ground.

“It’s really exciting, it’s been a long project because it took us so long to get all the permits to do this, and this idea has been in my head for a long time, so it’s just really exciting to see,” Morrison said. “Especially with digging down and to see the layers of stones down there.”

The archaeologists will next move to another section where they hope to find remnants of the kitchen’s wall, a possible entryway and maybe some stairs that previously connected to the Baldwin home. 

Mrs. Baldwin “fed a lot of people,” including her six children, visitors, sea captains, missionaries and travelers, Morrison said.

Research is ongoing, but Deputy Executive Director Kimberly Flook said a blue shard found is estimated to be from the 20th century when the Baldwin home cookhouse was rebuilt. The other piece was estimated to be from the mid-19th century. Flook said remnants can get mixed from the cookhouse being dug out and rebuilt. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

She pointed to an unnatural alignment of rocks that were evidence of the kitchen’s foundation, and a rock fire pit in the backyard, which showed how much the Baldwin family used the lawn for cooking, washing dishes and clothes, tending to a garden and raising farm animals.

“When you think about it, she had, like, 20 people at her table,” Morrison said. “This place was, like, busy day and night.”

Food shipments from America came once a year, so much of the Baldwins’ meals were made from the island’s offerings, including fish, breadfruit, coconuts, meat, and products from chickens and goats. 

Starting in 1840, the Baldwin home was used as a settlement house for those learning and adjusting to American ideals and lifestyle, Morrison said. It was also a meeting location for Girl Scouts and a place for nurses to board while working at the hospital down the street at the location of the former Hard Rock Cafe.

There was also a library on site. 

Rev. Baldwin was also a doctor who is notable for his preventive measures during the smallpox epidemic in 1853, Morrison said.

Baldwin encouraged Lahaina town to quarantine, and he vaccinated as many residents as he could to prevent the spread of the disease. He also warned the community to not allow boats from other islands to reach Maui shores — a strategy similar to that being used today to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

“Thousands were dying on Oahu, but he was able to control the outbreak here on Maui,” where the death toll was about 100, Morrison said.

The Fred Baldwin estate deeded the Baldwin Home to the nonprofit Lahaina Restoration Foundation in 1968, and through the decades, the Baldwin Home Museum has been restored to reflect a mid-19th century building.

To conduct the excavation project, Morrison said the foundation received a $3,000 grant from the Sam and Mary Cooke Preservation Fund through the National Trust for Historic Preservation and administered by the Historic Hawaii Foundation.

Since assuming the executive director position in 2008, Morrison said she has enjoyed most the “challenges and excitement of the unending amounts of things we’re able to do.” 

Before the coronavirus outbreak that forced many museums’ temporary closures, Morrison said visitor rates at all sites under the Lahaina Restoration Foundation had increased for the past two years.

“It’s been a great indication that all of the people who visit museums, which is a really small niche of the population, are coming in,” she said. “The people walking down Front Street will come check us out, which is great, but we really like to get the community and visitors into our sites too.”

During the closures, she said employees have been doing a lot of background work, such as cataloging, photographing and inputting notes on the foundation’s artifact collections into the museums’ files.

“We’ve been kind of backlogged on that, so it’s kind of nice to have the opportunity to spend some time getting a lot of that stuff done,” she said.

Until further notice, guided tours have been stopped at the Baldwin Home Museum, Wo Hing Museum and Cookhouse, Hale Pa’i Printing Museum, Lahaina Heritage Museum at the Old Lahaina Courthouse, and the Lahaina Heritage Museum.

The Apuakehau Cultural Park classes on Wednesday, the Mahjong Club scheduled for Tuesday and the Hawaiian Music Series on Thursday are canceled. 

However, the Plantation Museum at The Wharf Cinema Center, the Old Lahaina Prison Museum, and the Pioneer Mill Smokestack Exhibit and Locomotives are still open. 

For more information about the archaeological dig or how to donate, call Lahaina Restoration Foundation at 661-3262 or email info@lahainarestoration.org, or visit lahainarestoration.org.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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