Archaeologists Unearth Remnants of Kitchen Behind Oldest House Still Standing in Maui

The missionary who lived in the house during the mid-1800s delivered vaccinations to locals during a smallpox epidemic

Baldwin home 1966
The Baldwins' home was reconstructed in 1966 and is now a museum showcasing the missionary's life in the mid-1800s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists are searching for traces of an adobe kitchen behind the oldest house standing on Hawaii’s Maui island. The dig, set to conclude on March 27, has already yielded evidence of traditional foods, cookware and a bone button, reports Dakota Grossman for the Maui News.

Now the Baldwin Home Museum, the former residence was originally built for Reverend Ephraim Spaulding. When the missionary fell ill and returned to Massachusetts in 1836, however, Reverend Dwight Baldwin and his wife, Charlotte, decided to move into the house. Over the years, the couple welcomed a total of eight children, though two died of dysentery before the age of three. Charlotte taught lessons to local children, and the family hosted visitors including sea captains, other missionaries and members of Hawaii’s royal court.

Theo Morrison, executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which manages the historic home, noticed its conspicuous lack of a kitchen several years ago.

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

Documents linked to the estate contain frequent references to an adobe cookhouse behind the main house, as well as references to hundreds of adobe buildings in the city of Lahaina, explains Morrison to Lahaina News. Before Honolulu became Hawaii’s capital in 1845, the Maui metropolis held the title for 25 years.

The Baldwins’ home was originally a one-story property with four rooms. Built with lava rocks and coral cemented by sand and lime, its style is “reminiscent of old British homes by the sea,” writes Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith for Ke Ola magazine. The museum has a small piece of the two-foot-thick wall exposed so visitors can see the structure. The family lived on the property for 31 years, adding two more bedrooms on the ground floor and a second story.

Researchers’ search for traces of the kitchen was temporarily delayed by “weather and falling mangoes,” according to the Maui News. Still, the team persevered, unearthing relatively recent finds like a blue paint fragment dated to the 20th century, when the property was renovated after being donated by the Baldwin heirs to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, and earlier specimens, including a button, clam shells, opihi, animal bones and a possible utensil.

During the remainder of the dig, the archaeologists plan on looking for signs of an entrance to the cookhouse, as well as stairs leading to the Baldwin home.

Original plans to allow the public to help sift through the dirt for artifacts were changed in accordance with state social distancing policies. But Morrison hopes to collaborate with the community on the project in the future.

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,” she tells the Maui News. “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.”

The museum is currently closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But managing disease outbreaks is ingrained in the property’s history. The 19th century saw an uptick in traffic to the Hawaiian island from whalers, missionaries and businessmen, many of whom exposed local residents to disease.

Reverend Baldwin had received a Masters’ degree from Harvard College’s medical school. When smallpox started spreading across the archipelago in 1853, colleagues on the mainland sent him supplies for inoculation. Baldwin rode around the island on horseback, delivering vaccinations to locals over the course of several months, according to a video posted by the foundation.

The reverend also encouraged Maui residents to refuse incoming boats and to quarantine those who started showing symptoms of smallpox, per Ke Ola. In total, only about 200 Maui residents succumbed to smallpox, versus more than 6,000 on nearby Oahu.

Morrison tells Lahaina News that confirmation of the cookhouse and completion of a replica “would provide another window into the daily life of the Baldwin family—the food they ate, how they cooked and stored it.”

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