Pulehua

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This classic photograph of Pulehua, the Greenwell family’s beloved mountain house, was taken by Norman Carlson, talented photographer and Bishop Estate’s Kona land manager in the 1960s.  No Kona mountain house had a more delightful setting than this one, poised on the high plateau between Hualalai and Mauna Loa within the vast ahupua`a of Keauhou 2.  For over 100 years, Henry Nicholas Greenwell and his descendents used this home as their headquarters to oversee various ranching activities: rounding up sheep for wool, taming dairy cows to produce butter, and, finally, fattening up herds of Hereford cattle for top-notch beef. The family enjoyed their Pulehua years and dozens of children – Greenwells, cowboy children, friends and relatives - learned to ride horseback, shoot sheep, pick maile, bake ohelo berry pies, fix leaky waterlines and play silly card games around the old kitchen table. (And, what a place for ghost stories!)  In 1981, the house accidentally burned to the ground and shortly afterwards, the Greenwell family bid adieu to Pulehua.  Photos like this one bring the memory of that happy period back to life.

The front porch of the old house was a perfect vantage point to watch sunrise. Mornings were always chilly at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, so early risers headed into the koa kitchen, warmed by an ever burning wood stove. Filling heavy ironstone mugs with hot coffee and tea, they poured in generous dollops of evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk to create sweet, creamy concoctions long before Starbucks dreamed up their first latte.  Perched on the porch railing with the smell of wood smoke hanging in the air, the panorama of the mountain coming to life was always a spectacle worth watching.  Pre-dawn mist often wreathed the base of Hualalai; transparent clouds that turned pink, then gold, then faded into nothing.  Silence, broken only by distant sheep bleating or the moos of impatient calves, heightened the sense of cozy isolation.

Within the stone walls enclosing Pulehua homestead were all the trappings of mauka life:  butter house, saddle house and small blacksmith shop, cowboy house, house for the cook,  koa kitchen and screened pantry to keep out rats,  main house, vegetable and flower gardens, and, of course, that all important necessity, a hale li`ili`i (outhouse).  Over the years, modern conveniences were added:  indoor plumbing, a vented fireplace, a new bedroom for the expanding family, a small meat locker in which to hang freshly butchered mutton, and that 20th century noise maker, the generator house. Horse pens, tank sheds and milking pens clustered close by, linked by wonderful wooden gates, each one a masterpiece of cowboy craft. Beyond the walls, an oasis of sloping pastureland ringed the homestead, bordered by a sea of native Hawaiian forest, a tide of green encircling Mauna Loa for miles in all directions.  Koa trees, giants with twisting branches reaching high above the surrounding vegetation, gleamed in the morning light, grand and lovely, the hallmark of Kona mauka.  Aside from lichen covered stone walls and a few unseen water tanks in the distance, the land lay largely unaltered by Greenwell hands for over a century.

Of course, Hawaiians came to this beautiful area first and bestowed their own names on the landscape. The lands of Keauhou 2 were known for their birds: forest birds with colorful feathers fit for royal lei and capes, and good eating birds like nene geese and ua`u, the petrel who makes his burrow in volcanic cinders.  While Louis XIV enjoyed tasty squab at Versailles, Kamehameha’s ancestors liked young petrel for dinner, scooped from their burrows long before they learned to fly. Few Hawaiians traveled through Keauhou 2 because it was unsuited for agriculture, basically waterless, and cold (especially at night).  The men who knew it best were bird hunters.  Not surprisingly, Pulehua is a bird catcher’s term meaning “to gum the lehua.”  Gumming lehua blossoms and branches with sticky seed pod sap from papala kepau trees was one way to capture nectar sipping honeycreepers. The name of a nearby cinder cone complex is Pu`u Lehua, Hill of the Lehua, which has caused endless confusion over the name of the house site.  However, historian Jean Greenwell determined the house site itself is Pulehua and we shall stick to her interpretation.

Charles Wall came to Kona in the late 1850s with big ideas of making money from wool, and in 1873 he leased the lands of Keauhou 2 from the estate of Kamehameha V for that purpose.  He built himself a sheep station on the lava flats at Ka`anahaha, a remote place he must have thought most suitable for his shearing shed, wool press, shearer’s quarters and water tanks. Breeding imported Merino rams with wild ewes that roamed freely across higher elevations, he and his band of Hawaiian shearers clipped and shipped thousands of pounds of wool to Honolulu. Charles discovered he needed a good location to pen his herds of sheep before shearing and a place to pasture his mules and horses. He and his men built the first stone walls at Pulehua to create Pa Hipa or sheep pens.  The grass in this location was luxuriant compared to the sparse scrub poking through cracks at Ka`anahaha.  (For excellent descriptions of Charlie Wall and his Hawaiian wife, do read Isabella Bird’s Six Months in the Sandwich Islands.)

Discouraged by falling wool prices and an expensive error building a small house (Kealapu`ali) on property he did not own, Charlie Wall gave up his lease on Keauhou 2 after two years to Frenchman and physician, Dr. George Trousseau.  In all likelihood, the doctor decided to build his residence at Pulehua, choosing beauty over money-making convenience.  He built a sturdy home with shuttered windows and a clean burning fireplace. He papered his dining room walls with cutout illustrations from European magazines. He fell in love with a Hawaiian woman from Kona, adding a touch of romantic tension within the foreign community. There were Hawaiian grass houses at Pulehua and at Kaanahaha.  It may have been Trousseau who built the large cistern, an underground mortared tank, which held enough water to sustain man and beast.

Below the house was a dense forest called Devil Country, a thicket of mamane, a`ali`i, `ohi`a, koa and solitary sandalwoods.  Devil Country was notorious for jagged a`a lava flows, thick mists, and treacherous terrain, a surefire hideout for wild cattle and spooky sheep.  No cowboy wanted to be caught there after dark for fear of getting lost in the land of dangerous holes and strange echoing voices. To the north, past the ruins of the old sheep station, lay Ahua `Umi, that mysterious Hawaiian temple built long before the time of Walls and Greenwells, in the war-torn era of Hawaii’s first warrior kings. To the east, the broad summit of Mauna Loa, whether snow-capped or colored with streaks of volcanic fire and smoke, loomed majestically, framing the view.

What a place!  In 1879, Dr. Trousseau heard word his estranged and enraged Parisian wife was hot on his trail.  In a lather, he dashed makai from Pulehua to Kalukalu, eager to sell his interest in Keauhou 2 and all his Kona holdings to Mr. Greenwell.  Family lore tells the tale of Mrs. E.C. Greenwell accepting his offer (because her husband was not at home) and thereby changing the future of her family.  What a lucky break for the Greenwells who now had access to and responsibility for an immense chunk of Kona, a Kona they came to love and cherish for 100 years.

-In honor of the Greenwell Family Reunion, August 3 ~ 6, 2012

Aloha no, e Pulehua.


by Maile Melrose