‘The Fleming Journals’ help tell the story of West Maui
LAHAINA – A new document prepared by author Katherine Kama’ema’e Smith will be useful to West Maui residents studying their family history.
Smith will present a copy of “The Fleming Journals: West Maui Land Records and Family History 1905-1910” to Lahaina Public Library and talk story about the historical context of the journals on Friday, Aug. 23, at 3 p.m. at the library.
The presentation is part of Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s “Celebrate Historic Lahaina” event on Aug. 23-24. For information, see pages 8-9 or visit www.lahainarestoration.org.
David A. Fleming (1917-2013) inherited these journals and preserved them for another 58 years.
In 2011, he gave them to Smith, a West Maui historian, with direction to make the information in the journals “available to the Hawaiian people – not hidden in a museum.”
“I live on former Honolua Ranch land, overlooking the old mango grove area which is now The Bay Course at Kapalua. I researched all the history of Honokahua for my book, ‘The Love Remains,’ and aside from the Pu’u Kukui Conservatory guys and the MLP (Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc.) old- timers, I know as much about Honokahua as anyone,” said Smith.
“Mr. Fleming came to visit his friend, Henrietta Mahuna, who worked for many years in the Honolua Store. When he told her what he wanted to do with the books, she called me to come down to Honokowai and meet him. At first, I declined to receive the journals – they seemed so important. Then his niece, Martha Vockrodt-Moran, encouraged me to take the books.”
The Fleming Journal Collection is a useful resource for historians and Hawaiian families trying to locate West Maui kuleana lands and family history for ancestors that received Land Commission Awards in West Maui, Kaanapali Moku, in the ahupua’a of Honokowai, Kahana, Mailepai, Alaeloa, Napili, Honokahua, Honolua and Honokohau.
The collection’s four journal books contain handwritten copies of West Maui land survey data from state Bureau of Conveyance records prepared for Alexander & Baldwin in 1905.
It was a tough, 18-month job for Smith. The project was funded by the HK West Maui Community Fund.
“Advanced Micro Systems in Honolulu has a machine that scans old books without destroying the binding. Scanning 600 pages was the easy part. Indexing the data on a searchable spreadsheet was tough. I’m dyslexic, so big spreadsheets are not my strong suit,” Smith explained.
“I tried to hire someone to index for me, but the project required reading Mahele ‘aina records, interpreting pedigrees and Hawaiian names. Nobody wanted to do it. Proofing had the same hurdles. I did a little at a time, and redid the index twice to accommodate the output online libraries wanted,” she continued.
“If I had known the ropes, I probably would not have been so eager to start! Definitely, this was a labor of love.”
She learned that West Maui evolved like many other regions around the planet.
“History is made by people in the context of dynamic forces. Land consolidation on West Maui near the end of the 1800s was sugar companies diversifying into other crops and expanding sugar land,” she said.
“Families also gave up small farms to work on plantations or take city jobs. This project made me understand that the industrial age led to big agriculture and land consolidation here in West Maui and throughout Hawaii, just as it did throughout the world.”
Smith put a lot of time and effort into identifying and acquiring many fractional interests in undivided parcels.
“These journals chronicle this process of seeking heirs. It seems that land speculation was the same then as now – a few big players and a lot of small traders. It surprised me to see kuleana lands sold in the first or second generation after the Mahele,” she said.
In the process, Smith also learned about David T. “D.T.” Fleming (1881-1955) and his son, David.
D.T. began as manager of Honolua Ranch in 1911, to convert the company from a cattle to pineapple operation. He continued to run the pineapple operations when the company became Baldwin Packers.
In the 1940s and ’50s, D.T. enabled Baldwin Packers employees to obtain mortgages and buy house lots in West Maui.
When he retired in 1951, he kept the journals. At his death in 1955, he left the books to his son.
David grew up in Honokahua, now known as Kapalua Resort. He worked as garage manager for Baldwin Packers and managed the Honokohau Ditch water intake above Pu’ukoli’i until Maui County took it over.
In the 1950s, he created the Shoreline Bus Company of Lahaina, a small fleet of passenger vans serving West Maui customers.
In his elder years, David lived in Oregon, but he always kept in touch with Maui friends and family.
On his last trip home in 2011, he visited with West Maui kupuna Mahuna and Isao Nakagawa and rode the Maui Bus to Kahului and Lahaina. He passed away in March of this year at the age of 99.
“Time has validated the visionary projects D.T. Fleming took up so many years ago. He wanted to preserve the land and help the people of this island. His meticulous records are a significant primary resource,” Smith commented.
“I was impressed that ‘old man Fleming’ made it possible for Baldwin Packers employees to acquire land and build homes in West Maui, by selling them land or swapping coastal lands for their Kula lands. He helped families get mortgages to build their homes.”
Mauna Lei Arboretum in Honolua was D.T.’s reforestation incubator. Foreign trees he imported from all over the world “didn’t live up to expectations,” she said.
Native tree species he conserved in D.T. Fleming Arboretum in Ulupalakua turned out to be the best for water conservation.
“His son, Dr. James Fleming, tirelessly provided care to all – whether they could pay or not. In 1924, another Fleming wrote a book about the old trails of Maui. Granddaughter Martha Vockrodt-Moran is preparing and revising a second edition. Now, David A. Fleming gave the families of West Maui D.T’s meticulous land records,” Smith said, talking about the family’s contributions in West Maui.
The journals contain family trees useful to people studying their family history.
“We often wait too long to ask about the generations above our grandparents and their parents. The advantage of the old land surveys in these journals is that they are organized by ahupua’a, and the family names of adjoining parcels are noted. In family history, even a small detail can become a link to your roots,” Smith said.
One book tracks land transfers by Land Commission Awards. For West Maui researchers, Smith said it’s much easier to find Kaanapali lands when they are all in one place, rather than scanning Bureau of Conveyance ledgers organized by date of transfer.