Cultivating history

HANALEI — Patricia Sheehan won’t let things like devastating hurricanes or torrential rains get in her way. The Hanalei native has spent the better part of the last two decades restoring her family’s sprawling, 74-acre estate back to what it was during the turn of the 20th century, despite what Mother Nature tries to throw at it. 

“I think history has a lot to teach us,” Sheehan said of her life’s work of cultural preservation. “It doesn’t mean we have to live that way, but there are lessons to be learned.”

Her passion for history and her efforts to preserve Hawaiian culture with the utmost sensitivity have not gone unnoticed. Sheehan was selected by the Kaua‘i Museum as one of five Living Treasures to be honored at a July 9 luncheon at the Kaua‘i Beach Resort in Lihu‘e.

“I was very surprised and very honored,” Sheehan said of the award. “Being included in a very illustrious group is a great honor.”

Growing up in Kaua‘i’s North Shore, Sheehan is a fifth-generation descendant of Albert Wilcox. Wilcox and his wife, Emma Kauikeolani, were known for their hospitality and caring nature — characteristics Sheehan incorporates in her family’s home, the Kauikeolani Estate, located near the mouth of the Hanalei River.

“To build something to last, you have to nurture it,” she said. “That nurturing tradition came through me. My family has been in the same place — we are in the same house, we do a lot of the same things. It isn’t boring; it’s a beautiful place.”

The historic estate encompasses open lawns, sustainable gardens, fruit trees and Hawaiian fish ponds. Only a dozen or so structures sit on the 1900-vintage estate.

“Open space is important,” Sheehan said. “In today’s world, there’s not much open space. When you are up in Koke‘e, you feel small in relationship to everything else. I appreciate that scale.”

“It’s a small, delicate place,” Sheehan added. “We need to be thoughtful about how we live here. If you are here long enough, you realize what was done is the recent past isn’t as sustainable as it was done back then.”

Sheehan has kept her passion for restoration a family affair. With some research, she discovered Albert Wilcox operated Hanalei Land Company in 1900. She and her children revived the name and rent out eight vacation cottages plus the Kauikeolani Estate through the company.

“(The estate) ages beautifully, and I think that’s very much in Hawaiian culture. The quality of the character in these things that are older really shine through. Older buildings have a lot more character being 100 years old then modern buildings.”

Her next goal is to restore a boathouse that blew away in Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992.

As for passing down her love of preservation to her children and grandchildren, Sheehan said, “I think my children and my grandchildren get it. We love Hawai‘i, we love the ‘aina and we appreciate the fact we are here. There is no other place like this.”

Visit www.hanaleiland.com for more information about the Kauikeolani Estate.

The Kaua‘i Museum’s Living Treasure of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau luncheon celebration is July 9 at the Kaua‘i Beach Resort.

Since 1988, the museum honors people as “Living Treasures” for their contributions to culture, education and the welfare of the people of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

Tickets are $50 per person or $450 for a table of ten. Call 245-6931 or 246-2470 for more information.

• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.

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