WAIMEA — New life is springing up around one of the oldest structures on Kauai’s Westside.
More than 100 different types of life, to be exact, and it’s all planted on a little more than an acre that surrounds Waimea Town’s iconic Gulick-Rowell House.
Built in 1829 by Rev. Peter Gulick and his wife, Fanny, the house locally known as the town’s haunted house is in the midst of a renovation as grand as its surrounding lands.
“About a year ago, this was nothing but dry, fallow land,” said Fanny Ballantine, who is working with her father, Jim Ballantine, and others to restore the site. “Now it’s producing so much.”
Jim Ballantine bought the property in 2016 with the purpose of restoring the house. He partnered with neighbor Clint Snyder, who was already trying to garner support for farming the unused land.
“It wasn’t being used for anything,” Snyder said. “I told Jim my idea when he bought it and it fit perfectly into what he wanted, so we started the project.”
Now, a walkway winds through different varieties of breadfruit and avocado, patches of herbs, pomegranate and fig trees, and rows of greens.
The gravestones of family members from the Gulick and Rowell missionary families that were found on the property have been restored as well.
“The goal is to figure out what works best over here on the Westside and then figuring out the best way to grow it in the space,” Snyder said. “Then we want to teach others how to plant their yards with food-bearing plants.”
Produce from the food forest, as well as wares from other local farmers and artisans, is sold at a stand on the lanai of the Gulick-Rowell House. On Wednesday, the group received approval to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at the farmers market.
Labor in the food forest is provided by student internships through several organizations, such as Malama Kauai.
The entire project is under the umbrella of Hale Puna, which means House of Coral, a nonprofit that’s in the process of being finalized. It’s also the new name of the house.
“We thought it was appropriate to rename the place now that its purpose is changing and has changed,” Fanny Ballantine said. “So we had a ceremony and a blessing to rename it.”
Providing locally sourced food and inspiration for others to grow their own food on their property is just half of the vision for Hale Puna. The other piece is to turn the historic home into a community center and visitor destination.
The house is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Most of the walls and foundation are made from coral.
“Even the plaster they used is ground-up coral,” Fanny Ballantine said. “We think that’s the only reason this house is still standing. We like to say the rest of it is just termites holding hands.”
And while they repair and restore the structure, the Ballantines are also considering how to proceed with upgrades.
“Do we restore it to the way it was in 1927 or do we go all the way back to the 1830s?” Fanny Ballantine said. “We are still making those decisions.”
The missionary house was last upgraded in 1927 when it received electricity and the original cooking stove was bricked in and plastered over.
It was occupied by the Gulick family from 1828 to 1835, and then was empty until 1846 when Rev. George Rowell and his wife, Malvinia, moved into the home.
The Rowells expanded the house to include room for their seven children. It became the parsonage for two different churches until Rowell had a falling out with the church.
The Rowells moved out of the house in 1884. Various people lived in it afterward, including the postmaster and a sheriff.
“They say the basement was used as a jail,” Fanny Ballantine said. “The leper that started the colony in the Kalalau, he escaped from here.”
As the story goes, Kaluaikoolau — also known as Koolau the Leper — didn’t want to go to the island of Molokai to join the leper colony when he was diagnosed with the disease.
“They say he was held here overnight, but he escaped to be with his family,” Fanny Ballantine said.
From 1928-2004, the Wramp family occupied the house, but it’s been empty for the past 12 years.
Local kids sometimes dare each other to toss a rock through a window and often come back with shadowy ghost stories, Fanny Ballantine said.
There was one death in the house during the Wramp family era — a 6-year-old boy who fell down the stairs.
“I was scared by a cat once, but what I really feel when I’m in here is the energy of the place. It’s seen so many things — it’s one of the oldest standing things on this island,” she said.
Wares and produce from vendors are available at Hale Puna at the farmers market every Monday afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. under the giant monkeypod tree at 9567 Hukai Road.