Lihue’s history a roadmap to the future

Pat Griffin didn’t intend to write a book about Lihue.

So how, then, did this 370-page, hardback publication, “Lihue: Root and Branch of a Hawaii Town,” come to be?

Griffin laughs a little when explaining.

“I think it grabbed me by the shoulders and sat me down,” she said.

The president of the Lihue Business Association is the author of the recently released book published by the Kauai Historical Society. It’s filled with black-and-white photos and text of Lihue, a place many consider the heart of Kauai. It shares the stories of the people who shaped the town, the buildings, businesses, and houses that rose — and fell — and how it came to be the island’s county seat, commercial core and transportation hub.

There are personal accounts, reports, documents and illustrations neatly arranged throughout seven chapters. It was, Griffin said, a labor of love, as she took the project on as a volunteer because Lihue needed a detailed book chronicling its past.

“It’s an interpretive history of how we got to where we are now,” she said. “I hope it will shine a spotlight on how that happened. I hope very much that it will enlarge the understanding of part of our island. In some ways, Lihue is very unique. In other ways, it helps tell the story of the evolution of Hawaii itself.”

Griffin, who has lived on Kauai nearly 40 years, quoted a Hawaiian proverb to explain some of her motivation for the book: I ka wa mamua, ka wa mahope.

“You turn your back to the future to look to the past to guide you, then, into the present and future,” she said. “I think that’s an important concept.”

The first ideas for the book go back nearly 10 years. Griffin was serving on the Kauai Historical Society’s publication committee and was working on a series of booklets, about 32 pages or so, on parts of the islands. She volunteered to write about Lihue.

The more she discovered “one rich detail after another, the more she realized Lihue’s history was too great to summarize.”

“It became very clear, very fast, that Lihue deserved more than that,” she said.

She spent countless hours researching, digging, tracking down, and verifying facts, figures, names, dates, places and people. She read letters, diaries and logbooks. She plowed through volumes of files, photographs and papers. She checked, double-checked and triple-checked information about Lihue, which was named the island’s governing seat in 1837 by Governor Kaikioewa.

Sounds painstaking and slow, but the rewards were great.

The Kauai Historical Society is proud to be associated with the publication of “Lihue,” said KHS President Bill Fernandez. “It is a great book written by an extraordinary author.”

The book spotlights “visionaries and scoundrels, leaders and laborers and entrepreneurs from East and West.”

“From letters, you get so much about the life and the times,” she said.

Every so often, she could unearth amazing findings she referred to as “research rapture,” and that would lead her to say, “Oh my word, this is fabulous stuff.”

And she did all that, because in her heart, Lihue is one of the most important places on Kauai with a story that had to be told.

It’s not a gorgeous town, but it has some of the island’s most striking architectural designs.

“I think of it as describing cultural landscapes,” she said. “The buildings are jumping off points for the people, the characters who made it what is.”

It’s a sturdy town with strong, visionary people.

“Lihue Town began around a sugar mill and grew to become the most important urban center on the island by force of geography, institutions and personalities who seized on its potential over the past century and a half,” the book reads.

Griffin, who also wrote “Wilcox Memorial Hospital in the Twentieth Century,” believes Lihue will remain the island’s center of government, commercial center and transportation hub. An update of the Lihue district’s general plan is underway. She believes the town of about 7,500 will develop the housing, transportation and services that will allow for growth and continue to make it walkable, livable and vibrant.

I think that will happen, she said. “I’m very optimistic about it.”

Understanding Lihue’s history, she said, can provide markers for guiding today’s leaders into the future. It can offer a bigger grasp of what’s around them and why.

“I believe we have these roadmaps,” Griffin said.

By the way, while Root and Branch of a Hawaii Town is nearly 400 pages, there’s a lot more to say about Lihue, Griffin said.

It is a fascinating place, she said. “I could write another 30,000 words.”

“Lihue: Root and Branch of Hawaii Town” is $35 and available at the Kauai Historical Society, Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe and the Kauai Museum.

Griffin will give a presentation of her book at the LBA meeting, which begins 7:30 a.m. Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club. Jan TenBruggencate will also outline the book he recently completed, “Grove Farm, Kauai: 150 Years of Stewardship and Innovation.”

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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