New chapter for the old Chong house

12 11 2011

In the last chapter, Rebekah, DH, cousin Nathan, and cousin Ann left North Kohala without seeing Grandfather Chong’s house. It was no longer on the former Bond Estate land in Ainakea! A neighbor said the house was hauled away on a truck. Where, oh, where was it now?

Back on Oahu in June 2011 I searched the internet for the folks who lived in the house once, when it was the Kohala Family Homeschooling Learning Center run by Kether — names I didn’t recall until I saw them on the web. Kether confirmed the house and the one next to it were hauled away on a truck. In fact, she would give me the name and number of the man who took them. Thomas A. Quinlan.

Mr. Quinlan rescues historical buildings, finds other land for them, and restores them. It’s his passion.

Map of Kohala district, Hawaii

North Kohala highlighted on a map of Hawaii island.

He said one of the houses was in Waimea (about 40 minutes drive away) with a veterinarian, and the other was behind Kita Store, the little green one right on the highway on the way out of Hawi going toward Kona ( about 5 minutes away). A new family was ready to move in.

While on the telephone I’d written in my notes where “our” house was and where the “bachelors'” house was. My grandmother cooked for the bachelors next door during her time at Ainakea.

After we hung up, I looked at my notes, but I didn’t trust them. My slight dyslexia sometimes causes me to reverse elements of pairs if the information comes in too fast. Which house was where? Shucks. It’s a long time before our August 2012 reunion that we’re planning for Kohala (hence the house search); I’ll verify the site later, I thought.

Meanwhile, after seeing the photos on my blog, Mr. Quinlan posted a comment:

“Your family house is still alive and well in Kohala. I moved it to a friend’s place so that it could be cared for and restored. That is exactly what is happening. It is looking beautiful.”

Enter cousin Jim, our family genealogist, here on vacation from the University of Melbourne (Australia) to update our family history. “Let’s go to Kohala,” he suggested. “I’m not sure my teaching schedule will allow me to come to Hawaii next August.”

Immediately DH said, “Rebekah, I think you should go. You still have something to do there.”

Kohala rainbow seen from the guest cottage

Jim’s aunt, who is my first cousin Elly, arranged for us to stay overnight in a private guest cottage at Kahua Ranch up in the mountains. It would be all right, as she would be there too. I emailed Tom Quinlan to ask about the houses again. As Jim and I left for Kohala, no reply.

Last Tuesday afternoon we drove down to Hawi looking for Kita Store. There were several painted green on that main street, and none named Kita. The realty office that helped me on the last trip was open, so in we marched to ask.

Afternoon sun casts our shadows across the Kita Store storefront, with abandoned produce bins. Through the window we saw shelves and fixtures as in a dry goods store.

We learned that Kita Store was closed, in cobwebs, and a little farther down the highway pass the theater. The kind woman in the office provided us with a detailed description, and pinpointed the property for us on a map.

The house we found in Hawi didn’t look right to me. Nope. I don’t think so. I think this was the bachelor’s house, I said to Jim. No one was home. It began to rain, and we quickly took the opportunity to take some snapshots of the exterior. In the morning we would call the vet in Waimea.

We then went to Ainakea so Jim could see that, indeed, no house was there anymore.

Cousin Jim at Ainakea, former site of his Great Grandfather Chong's house

On the drive up the mountain back to the Ranch, I remembered my friend Phil was now working at a ranch in Kohala, but I wasn’t sure which ranch or if there was more than one ranch. At supper around the kitchen table in the main house I asked the owner Monty Richards if Phil worked there. Yep, he’s here, he works in the shop.

Phillip Oveland is a professional motocross racer, the nephew of my good friend Andrea who lives across the stream from my studio. We’ve played poker together, but I don’t see him much since he moved to Hawaii island. I could pay him a visit in the morning.

Late that evening I saw the email reply from Tom Quinlan. He was in Ireland restoring an old castle and would be back in Kohala next week. The house behind Kita Store needed to be moved again, he wrote, and he was looking for a suitable spot. Did I know of a place? His inference (by me) was that it was our ancestral family home. I still wasn’t convinced and again reviewed comparison photos. One clue was the roof. It was white while the roof of the one we were really searching for was red.

After breakfast I phoned the vet’s office, and he was out of town until . . . next week! His staff knew of the house I asked about, and yes, I should wait until the doctor came back. I left my name and number. Guess I could ask for him to send a picture. Later.

Me and Phil

There was not much to do now except see Phil. He bounced down the stairs. “Rebekah!” So welcoming. He introduced Jim and me to Jean, his trainer. When we told our story, Jean said, “I know exactly where that house is.”

Jean told us where to go. We did. And, without a doubt, we found Grandfather Chong’s house sitting comfortably against a beautiful backdrop of the misty hills of Waimea, still under restoration and looking beautiful and well cared for.

Our family's old house from Ainakea has new life in Waimea. We're thrilled!

Current view of the side of the house that used to face Akoni Pule Highway

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke




My grandfather Chong’s house

19 06 2011

My mother's birthplace

Fathers Day 2011

My trip to North Kohala last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with my cousin Nathan, cousin Ann, and DH to scout places and activities for a family reunion in 2012 included some sleuthing, at least in our minds!

I do apologize for keeping you in suspense by my last post. 😉

Our main quest was to determine whether or not the house our mothers, aunties, and uncles were born in (between c. 1905 to 1925)—in the ahupuaa (land division) of Ainakea—was still standing. One would think a simple phone call could give the answer, but I had gotten conflicting reports in recent years, and even last week! With my investigative reporter’s background, I had to fly inter-island and see for myself. DH and my cousins would corroborate the findings.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the house was still there? I imagined our other cousins could see firsthand during our reunion where their (grand)parents lived. We could walk the aina (the land) where our ancestors played and grew up before they moved to Honolulu in 1925 for higher education. I belong to the third generation, and the sixth generation has begun to show up. What an opportunity this could be.

My grandfather Chong How Kong, also known as Ah Nee, worked as the overseer for the estate of Dr. Benjamin Davis Bond (1853-1930), a physician, and his wife Emma Renton Bond (1866-1951). It’s located in the ahupuaa of Iole. Iole is next to Ainakea. Dr. Bond’s father, the very Father Elias Bond (1813-1896) was responsible for my grandparents’ emigration from China.

Today, there is a new land owner (New Moon Foundation) and the “Bond Historic District,” a 56-acre federally registered historic district, within its boundaries. The towns of Hawi and Kapaau and other tiny communities on the northern tip of Hawaii island to the end of the road are characterized by country living, attractive small-business establishments, and a tightly knit, caring community.

Now, about those conflicting reports. From time to time over the years various family members would revisit the old homestead and be welcomed on the property by whoever lived there. I was there in 1990 with DH and cousins Elly and Jim, and in 2003 with my friends Linda and Terry. Ann went with her husband (now late) cousin Anson a few years later. We each took the obligatory photo of us standing in front of the house.

In 1990, the front porch is enclosed and the kitchen wing Ah Nee built is still attached. That's my cousin Jim with a friend in the shade of the avocado tree.

View of the kitchen in 1990. During our family's time in the 1920s, bachelors lived in the house in the rear. My grandmother cooked for them as well as for her own family of 15 children.

View from the back of the house in 1990

Brenda greets us in 2003. The kitchen has been removed, and the house renovated. The porch is open, there are new windows on the side, and the cottage in the back is spruced up. At this time it is occupied by the Kohala Family Homeschooling Learning Center.

Front view with open porch

This 2003 photo shows new windows and paint.

After the magnitude-6.7 and 6.0 earthquakes hit Hawaii on October 15, 2006, I was curious how the house survived, if at all. By phone from Oahu I reached a woman who told me rather authoritatively that the house was still standing, but that it was tagged for demolition because of earthquake damage. Okay, that’s it, I thought.

A few times after that, cousins vacationing on the Big Island would call me for directions to the place. “Not sure if the house is still there,” I’d tell them, “but here’s how to find the site. Let me know what you find.” And I’d describe the wooden gate between two ironwood trees that opened onto the grassy driveway. Later they would say how they couldn’t find it. “Well, it’s a small house, and it’s some distance in from the highway,” I’d say.

Last year when I contacted New Moon Foundation to ask about the house and any educational programs it advertised on its website (research for the family reunion), the office had no idea what house I was referring to. That puzzled me.

Continuing in my search, my Facebook friend Anna, a widow of a Bond descendant, introduced me to her son Boyd, who lives in Kapaau and knows a lot of North Kohala history. He said over the phone when I called to make an appointment to meet him that the house was still there. Oh, yay! When we met in person just a few days ago, he reported, “No, sorry, it’s not.” Indeed when we drove by, finally, we saw from the highway that it was gone. 😦  In its place: a Matson container.

On the adjacent lot are some homes, with a bumpy road parallel to the property line. We drove up the road for a better look at the lot from the side and turned around half way when it got rougher. A dog started barking, and the neighbor emerged. “Go talk to her,” DH urged.

I explained why we were there, how sad the houses were torn down (there was more than one). Her name was Mrs. Castillo.  She said, “Oh, they weren’t torn down. They were moved away on a truck.” Imagine my surprise! She said the property was then graded and a new road was put in. “Before or after the earthquake?” I asked. “Before,” she replied. Hmmm …

Staff at New Moon Foundation was gone for the afternoon, so we planned to ask the next morning. Back at the Kohala Village Inn, while I continued to reflect on this news, I decided to look up the satellite map from Google.

I found the aerial view of the neighbor’s house, and I also saw our family house we were looking for. I was sure of it. I got excited! I thought, the house was moved all right, but just to a spot farther in on same lot. Now I really had to return to the spot to find out for certain.

The next morning at the Iole office I explained our quest. “I’m imagining our parents as kids playing with the Bond kids, and there must have been a short cut between the two places,” I said to the admin staff. They pulled up the Google map, the same map, and mentioned it was the place of the Meditation Hale (house).

They’ll take us there!  Of our entire scouting trip, that was the most joyous moment for me. Through the fruit orchards, down the gulch into the forest, and up a private trail. As we walked into Ainakea, it was plainly evident that our grandparents’ house was not there after all. That darned Google map is old!

Between the Meditation Hall in the rear of the property and the highway we found a rock terrace and a pair of orange trees remaining. Back in the studio I’m comparing the photos from different eras, wishing I would have thought to bring them on the trip in the first place.

DH and cousin Nate walk quietly past the Meditation Hale at Ainakea.

Looking toward the highway from the back of the property, you can see the ironwood trees where the old gate was.

Why do we care so much after all this time. Well, there’s just something about finding one’s roots, and my cousins will like to come here.

There’s still a missing piece to the puzzle. Where is the house? You know, we were so happy to walk on the land, we never asked New Moon Foundation the question.

The Matson container and me

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke







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