Lahaina's Recovery Efforts

Dominating the courthouse square in downtown Lahaina is one of the most remarkable aboreal specimens. One quarter of a mile in circumference, its octopus-like limbs stretch outward, spreading a vast network of branches, leaves and aerial roots towards the streets and buildings surrounding it. Extraordinary, almost surreal, it seems more like a fantastic prop from a Tim Burton film than a organism in real life. How did this giant come to lay its roots in this tiny port of Lahaina? Here’s the story:

On April 24, 1873, to honor the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, which was started at the request of Queen Keōpūolani, the sacred wife and widow of King Kamehameha the Great, Sheriff William Owen Smith planted the exotic Indian Banyan. At the time it was only eight feet tall.

After settling in, the tree slowly sent branches outward from its trunk. From the branches, a series of aerial roots descended towards the earth. Some of them touched the ground and dug in, growing larger until eventually turning into trunks themselves. Over the years, Lahaina residents lovingly encouraged the symmetrical growth of the tree by hanging large glass jars filled with water on the aerial roots that they wanted to grow into a trunk. In time, what was once a small sapling matured into a monumental behemoth.

Stabilization of Historic Buildings

After the fire, we were so relieved to see the walls of these structures still standing, but unlike other historic sites in Lahaina (Old Lahaina Courthouse, Old Prison walls, etc.), we found that these were actively continuing to fail and would be lost without immediate action. Thankfully, we were given emergency permission to stabilize Baldwin and Masters now rather than wait for the FEMA funded stabilization, which is still to come in the future for the other historic buildings in Lahaina.

image of Baldwin House Museum before fire. image of Baldwin House Museum after fire. image of the Baldwin House Museum stabilized after the fire.

Technology Aids in Historic Preservation

Photogrammetry is an amazing technology! It meshes high-resolution images are captured from 400 feet above using software to create a complex 3d model with remarkable detail. We worked with Sam O. Hirota Inc for great imaging of Banyan Tree Park, Old Lahaina Courthouse, Campbell Park, Baldwin Home Museum and Master's Reading Room. This will aid stabilization and restoration efforts greatly.

image of Lahaina using photgrammetry. image of Old Lahaina Courthouse using photogrammetry

Debris Removal

Debris removal at our historic sites is beginning. The first site to be worked on was Wo Hing Museum and Cookhouse. We really appreciate the care that the workers are showing at the site and their willingness to protect any objects that they find during clean up. Debris removal at our other sites is still to come.

image of Wo Hing looking across to cookhouse to hall. image of Wo Hing Chinese Museum after debris removal

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Post-Fire Tree and Plant Care

Our staff have joined the teams working to care for and propagate the various key trees around Lahaina. We will continue to care and focus on the young Ulu trees at Old Lahaina Prison which while damaged may still be viable.

image of ti leaf sprouts at Hale Aloha
Ti leaf Sprouts at Hale Aloha
image of ulu root segments for propagation.
'Ulu root segment for propagation
image of Isabella grapes post fire at Baldwin Home Museum.
Isabella grapes growing at Baldwin Home Museum

Cleaning Up the Green Spaces

LRF team members are in the burn zone daily helping to maintain the green spaces that we care for in Lahaina. This work allows us to protect the surviving plants and prevent further damage from overgrowth. It also aids in the debris removal phase, as opportunistic plants have intertwined with fallen limbs, signposts, etc. that need to be removed.

image of overgrown area near Lahaina library
Before Trimming at the Library
image of worker trimming grass near Lahaina library.
During Trimming at Library
image of area near Lahaina library after trimming.
After trimming at library

image of overgrown area at waterfront arbor in Lahaina
Before Trimming at Lahaina Waterfront Arbor
image of waterfront arbor in Lahaina after trimming.
After Trimming at Lahaina Waterfront Arbor

Below, you will find some images of Lahaina's famous Banyan Tree that were taken in June and July, 2023:

Recovering Cultural Items from the Ash

Our team is making big moves to recover the collections of the sites we lost in Lahaina. We have successfully recovered artifacts at each site that we have worked, finding objects from all eras, including Native Hawaiian stone objects, ceramic missionary items, small ivory and bone artifacts from whaling ships, and metal items from the plantation era.

Only one site remains to have artifact recovery completed: the Old Lahaina Courthouse. We are awaiting stabilization by US Army Corps of Engineers before entering the site.

image of artifact recovery efforts in Lahaina
Artifact Recovery - Hale Aloha
image of artifact recovery at Hale Aloha in Lahaina.
Artifact Recovery - Hale Aloha
image of ceramics recovered from Baldwin Home Museum in Lahaina.
Baldwin Family Ceramics

image of Native Hawaiian stone artifacts recovered from the burned area in Lahaina
Native Hawaiian Stone Artifacts
image of Chinese coins recovered from the Wo Hing Chinese Museum in Lahaina.
Wo Hing Chinese Coins

Cleaning and Storing Surviving Artifacts

Now that we have removed surviving artifacts from the disaster zone, we can begin to clean and properly store them. Thanks to the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, we now have the training and materials (both collections care and personal protective equipment) to care for Lahaina’s cultural items.

image of Lahaina Restoration Foundation staff training in artifact collection care
Training in Collections Care
image of fume hood used for artifact collections in Lahaina.
Fume Hood for Collections Care

This video shows the condition of the famous Banyan tree next to the Lahaina Courthouse. This footage was obtained on 7/28/2023, less than 2 weeks before the fire.

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