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1995 Historical Education Preservation Award

A Local History
Text by
Gail Bartholomew
Photo research by
Bren Bailey


Hawaiians knew that Pele the volcano goddess could unleash her fiery fury from Haleakala at any time. Despite this threat, ancient sojourners sought prized resources available at the mountain's summit, travelling to Maui's highest point to hunt birds, to conduct religious ceremonies and to gather dense rock for adzes. According to tradition, Hawaiians often ventured to isolated and distant areas to inter their dead, making the crater a desirable burial site, even for those as far away as the island of Hawai'i.

Hawaiians also used Haleakala as a shortcut. In order to more easily traverse East Maui from north to south, Hawaiians created a thoroughfare through the summit and out Kaupo Gap by laying out a road paved with smooth rocks. It is believed, however, that robbers sometimes made this trade route perilous.

A party of three missionaries provided the first written account of an ascent to the mountain top in 1828, followed 13 years later by a report submitted by Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition who reconnoitered the area. Nineteenth-century visitors, intrigued by early accounts, travelled many extraordinarily rough miles to reach their destination. Once there, caves offered the only overnight shelter, as the first primitive resthouse wasn't built until 1894. Travellers, though exhausted by their strenuous effort to get to the top, were well rewarded, finding Haleakala's crater, as one admirer described it, "awe-inspiring in its sublimity."

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Hardy adventurers seeking shelter in cave, 1890's.

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On right, Lawrence "Chu" Baldwin and friend, around 1923, enjoying Hawaiian snow.

Thoughtlessly harming the landscape they came to admire, souvenir collectors commonly picked leaves of the unusual 'ahinahina, or silversword, to decorate a hat, or plucked whole plants for sport. One enterprising Mauian even advertised specimens for sale nationally through Popular Science Monthly. Free-roaming wild goats and bullocks, abetted by domestic cattle pastured in the crater by Haleakala Ranch, wreaked further havoc. Despite the depletion of the sensitive plants, Maui citizens gathered several gunnysacks' worth of 'ahinahina's silky silver leaves in 1911 and subsequent years to decorate floats representing Maui in Honolulu Floral Parades.

No one was more enthusiastic about Haleakala's beauty than Olinda resident Worth Aiken. For the first 30 years of the century, Aiken operated a Haleakala horse transportation and guide business based at his home, Idlewilde. Only two to three tourists at most, however, attempted the rugged trip up the mountain each month in 1914, a fact distressing to Maui promoters.

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Wedding party in Haleakala crater
adorned with silverswords, around 1890's.

As a consequence, Aiken and other civic-minded citizens lobbied successfully for Haleakala to unite with the volcano region of the island of Hawai'i in the formation of Hawai'i National Park. Earning national park status in 1921 helped to bring Haleakala to the public's attention, but accessibility was still a problem. The age of the automobile had arrived, yet experiencing the pleasures at Haleakala's peak still required horses. Fortunately, federal funding made the dream of an auto road possible.

The day in 1935 that Haleakala Highway opened was momentous! The Territorial Legislature adhourned so the politicians could attend the dedication, businesses, closed NBC broadcast the ceremony nationwide, and an astounding 1,600 people christened the winding automobile road in relative comfort. In the second year of the highway's existence, ten times that number drove to the top of the mountain.

In the 1930's, just as today, stalwart sightseers enjoyed descending into the crater. Hikers or Horse riders could cover much of the moon-like expanse in a day trip, or stay overnight either in tents or in three Civilian Conservation Corps- built cabins. Guides made the trip even more interesting and comfortable. Legendary guide Frank Freitas spent 50 years showing off Haleakala's special features to curious visitors, including royalty and movie stars.

During World War II, thousands of isle-based servicemen made the trek, although access to the summit was limited to daylight hours. They were not the only military personnel to experience the mountain, as the United States Army maintained a camp high on its slopes. After the war, the Haleakala Mountain Lodge remodeled the abandoned Army buildings in order to provide rest, food and tour accommodations for park visitors.

In 1961, Haleakala became an independent national park. Since that time, the park has acquired additional land, improved its trails and, through conservation efforts, replenished the threatened 'ahinahina and the nene or Hawaiian goose. And of utmost importance, the volcano, which has been dormant since 1790, has kept on sleeping.

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An early resthouse provided for visitors to Haleakala, early 1920's.



A Local History



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