LAHAINA — A reader asked the other day, whatever happened to Kapana Gecko, the fictional character who has appeared here from time to time?
It turns out that Gecko is excited about the Progressive Dinner that will be held at the Baldwin missionary home on May 28 and 29.
Because of the distance, Gecko won’t make it for pupus at the first stop: the Wo Hing Museum on Front Street (formerly Alanui Mo‘i, or King’s Way). He also won’t be at the Hale Aloha old meeting house, where a salad course will be served.
But he is making plans to inch his way from his home in Lahaina Public Library to the Baldwin Home across the street and then over to Pioneer Inn.
Gecko is excited because he knows quite a bit about the Baldwins. His ancestor, Thaddeus Gekkojidae (shortened to Gecko, with his first name coming from the ship that brought the first missionaries to Honolulu), used to live with Dwight and Charlotte Baldwin and their seven children.
Geckos, like most Hawaiians, learn their history by listening to stories passed down from generation to generation. Stories of the Baldwins have passed through six generations of Geckos (180 years). (Disclaimer: Gecko’s stories may not be as accurate as the accounts of Lahaina Restoration Foundation, since their research is based on print sources.)
On Dec. 28, 1830, Rev. Dwight Baldwin of Durham, Connecticut, and his wife, Charlotte, from New Branford sailed on the good ship New England as part of the fourth set of missionaries sent by the American Board of Foreign Missions to bring Christianity to Hawaii.
By 1836, the Baldwins were in Lahaina to serve at Waine‘e Church (now Waiola Church). When Rev. Ephraim Spaulding, the original owner, moved back to New England, Dwight, Charlotte and family moved into a coral and volcanic rock structure that forever after would be known as the Baldwin Home.
At church, the multidimensional Baldwin preached to up to 3,000 Hawaiians, including King Kamehameha III, considered the smartest king. He developed a seamans’ chapel to serve whalers, served as unofficial postmaster and ministered to the sick.
As a practicing physician, the reverend/doctor traveled throughout Maui, Lanai and Molokai to treat patients and fight epidemics of whooping cough, measles and smallpox that took a deadly toll on vulnerable Hawaiians. He imposed a quarantine in Lahaina, and his vaccinations are credited with keeping death to a “few hundred” in Lahaina Town compared to thousands in Oahu.
To commemorate the defeat of smallpox, he supervised the building of Hale Aloha, whose tower was recently restored by Lahaina Restoration Foundation. The meeting house for Waine‘e Church will be the setting for the salad course and entertainment during one of the stops for the Progressive Dinner.
In 1870, Baldwin moved to Honolulu, and until his death in 1886, the reverend taught pastors how to minister to Hawaiians.
The Baldwins’ legacy — converting Hawaiians to Christianity, teaching them a new language and helping the sick — extended even further. Son Henry Perrine Baldwin helped form what is today Alexander & Baldwin.
Turning to sugar cane production after the missionary society pulled its support from its own missionaries, Baldwin and Samuel Alexander built a 17-mile irrigation ditch to bring water from the slopes of Haleakala to their new fields between Paia and Makawao.
Baldwin’s heroics saved the project. Laborers refused to lower themselves dangerously over the last deep precipice to finish the work. Baldwin, who had lost an arm at the company’s Haiku mill, grabbed a rope and descended. The embarrassed workers followed to get the water flowing.
Descendants carried on after Henry died in 1911, building A&B into an agricultural, shipping, tourism and development powerhouse.
The Baldwin Family and its descendants owned the home for 130 years, finally deeding it to Lahaina Restoration Foundation under Jim Luckey in 1967.
Thanks to the Baldwins, the home continues to showcase Lahaina history with candlelight tours and the annual dinner added under the leadership of Theo Morrison and a strong board of directors.
Generations of Geckos have watched every step of the way. Kapana Gecko is looking forward to the dinner, though he wonders what Dwight Baldwin — an advocate of temperance — would think about wine being served at his old home on May 28 and 29. Gecko, to honor the Baldwins, will stick to iced tea.
Columnist’s Notebook: Gecko would like to sell tickets but has no credit card machine. He recommends going to www.lahainarestoration.org or calling 661-3262.
Gecko last year climbed a tall lamp post to snap this photo of “Dwight Baldwin” played by Lahaina’s Mark Ledoux.