I knew it was coming, but it took my breath away to see the old stables and agriculture research building at Hali'imaile leveled to the ground, victims of age, vandalism and roof asbestos.
I guess we should be grateful Maui Pine let them stand as long as they did. I know a study showed they weren't structurally sound enough to preserve. Still, the demolition leaves a big hole in people's memories, and in the core of the town, where the illusion of an old plantation village - the only one left in Hawaii, actually - used to be intact.
In 1923, Maui Agricultural Co. agreed to grow pineapple for the California Packing Corp. on a profit-sharing basis, to ship from Kahului to the company's cannery in Honolulu. William A. Clark, head of Grove Ranch, was selected to head Maui Ag's pineapple division. He planted 250 acres at Hali'imaile and Kaluanui that first year, and 500 acres more in 1924 and 1925.
"A very attractive camp for the employees in this department has been built, as well as a good garage and repair shop for trucks and tractors and a commodious stable," Harry Baldwin noted in his annual report for 1924. This was Hali'imaile village, where 120 cottages with "electric lights, running water, shower baths, and a complete system of sewage disposal" were constructed. A separate camp arose for workers in the Kaluanui fields.
In March 1924, Haleakala Ranch signed its own agreement with California Packing Corp. The Haleakala Pineapple Co., headed by Harry's son-in-law, J. Walter Cameron, came out of that, and Maui Pineapple Co. was founded in 1932 by merging the two ventures as an economy move during the Depression.
One of the original buildings was the old stables. In the early days, horse- or mule-drawn cultivators, with handles to control the width of the blade, were used to weed between the rows. "Sometimes you see these mules with a cultivator behind him running down the road to the stables," Frank Gouveia once told me. "Everybody laugh. 'Whose mule is that?' Yeah, he come back with a cultivator all busted up."
The animals were replaced by tractors in the early '30s, but until then Maui Pine maintained a blacksmith shop so fine that Haleakala and Grove ranches sent horses down for shoeing.
The other building at Hali'imaile recently torn down was the old agricultural research facility. Pineapple was easy to grow in the early days in the rich deep soil of Haleakala, and very little fertilizer was needed. The virgin soil was so rich the plants grew high, in some fields up to 6 feet, Eddie Ceballos recalled.
There were no pesticides in 1932 - "In the beginning, pineapple never had that problem" - but as the years went by an agricultural research unit was formed to implement new industry developments in pest control and cultivation.
Spraying for nematodes wasn't necessary until 1940. During one short experiment, a tractor-pulled mulching machine laid tar paper and injected the soil with chloropicron, a tear gas. Ceballos' job was to ride the sled and control the flow between the tanks. When he switched the valves to change tanks, sometimes gas would leak out.
"I used to get choke," he said. His instructions from Wayne Greig, head of agricultural research, were this: "Just get away from the machine and get some fresh air." Paper was left for five days before planting. "If they punctured the paper would get all the smell, and those guys would get choke."
The agricultural research building was where chemicals were mixed. A shower was installed in case of mishaps, and for a long time a sign attesting to the department's safety record hung on a nearby wall.
One day last year someone dragged a three-legged armchair over to the shower area, and sat evenings watching the sunset over the cane fields. That might have been the beginning of the end.
As it strives to make ends meet and pay its pensioners, the slimmed-down (16 employees), 21st century Maui Pine is renting space in the Hali'imaile buildings. Other tenants besides the standbys of the Hali'imaile General Store and Hali'imaile Pineapple Co. are Crossfit Upcountry Maui, Makai Glass Creations, Ding King's Fiberglass Works, and Hali'imaile Distilling Co.
Even the old headquarters building with its flagpole and historic pay window is up for lease as office space.
County regulations being what they are, I guess it's inevitable that on the ag research building site there's going to be a parking lot.
* 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.