Lydgate is gathering place, thanks to founder

WAILUA — Earth Day cleanup celebrations are a tradition at Lydgate Park in Wailua, but throughout the year, the 62-acre park serves the community in countless other ways.

“It’s probably one of the most popular parks on the island,” said Christie Bagley, who was taking a moment to watch the ocean Thursday morning at Lydgate. “It’s a great place for people to throw a party and it’s handy.”

Bagley often meets friends and family at Lydgate to spend time walking the path, or sitting at one of the many benches and covered areas dotted throughout the park.

“Sometimes there are maybe 10 of us. Sometimes someone will throw bigger parties, with music. I’ve seen memorial services and political gatherings; there’s a variety of things going on,” Bagley said.

The park was named after the Rev. John Mortimer Lydgate, who was born in Canada in 1854 and moved to Hawaii with his parents in 1865. He attended Punahou School and worked as a plantation manager and a surveyor.

Lydgate decided he wanted to become a reverend instead of a surveyor when he was reviewing leprosy colonies with Queen Emmalani, but it was his surveyor roots that led to the establishment of Lydgate Park.

“He didn’t want to be a surveyor, that was his father’s business,” said John Lydgate, grandson of the park’s namesake and Kauai resident. “So he founded the stone church in Lihue.”

In the early 1900s, Lydgate discovered the foundations of two ancient Hawaiian artifacts — Hikinaakala Heiau, a temple built to honor the sun, and the Hauola City of Refuge. He also found petroglyphs in the area.

“The plantations were taking rocks from these places and using them to build bridges,” Lydgate said. “They were being destroyed by the plantations, and my grandfather said ‘That’s wrong.’”

So, Lydgate petitioned the territorial governor and succeeded in having the area designated as a park.

He also founded the Kauai Historical Society in 1914. He contributed to the society by translating ancient legends and publishing them into several magazines, as well as in the book “The Kauai Papers,” available at local libraries.

The Kauai Public Library was also established by Lydgate and his wife.

He died in 1922, which was then the park was named after him, but that wasn’t the end of the story for Lydgate Park.

“When Albert Morgan built Morgan’s Ponds in 1964, that really made the park,” Lydgate said.

Morgan was inspired by a 1958 trip to Italy where he saw swimming lagoons that were protected and easily accessible. The state government put in $18,000 for the project, which was secured by Sen. Billy Fernandes, who died in June 2011.

Historic preservation was paramount to John M. Lydgate, but the park was also established to connect the community.

“We set up the playground, and the bridge and the campsites, and that’s really celebrated my grandfather’s life,” Lydgate said. “It also celebrates historic preservation.”

The first Earth Day event at the park happened about 50 years ago, Lydgate said, when he and some others teamed up to start infusing life back into the park and add amenities, like the campgrounds and pavilions.

“This park is a legacy,” Lydgate said. “Out of the ruins of the last 100 years, we’ve built a park that connects Waipoli, Wailua, Kapaa and Lihue; and Earth Day celebrates this community and this connectedness.”

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