The Historic Hawaii Ranch of the Baldwin Family

Descendants of H.P. Baldwin live on one of the state’s largest working cattle ranches

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Built in 1918 by her great-grandparents, this ranch house is owned by Kristina Lyons Lambert, the great-great-great-granddaughter of H.P. Baldwin, and her husband Tom. Ashley Camper for The Wall Street Journal

About 10 miles from Oprah Winfrey’s ranch on Maui sits nearly 30,000 acres of upcountry land owned by a family whose name is virtually synonymous with Hawaii’s tumultuous history.

The family is the large and influential Baldwin clan. Family patriarch H.P. Baldwin co-founded Alexander & BaldwinALEX -1.23% which would become one of Hawaii’s “Big Five”—companies, often considered an oligarchy, that wielded enormous economic and political clout in the state from the mid-19th to mid-20th-century. Today, as its original sugar business dwindles, A&B is a Honolulu-based real-estate firm and one of the state’s largest landowners. The ranch and the company are now separate.

The land is Haleakala Ranch. It harks back to 1869, when H.P. Baldwin purchased an initial 16½-acre parcel for $500 with a partner, and it is named after the volcano on whose slopes most of its cattle roam. Early visitors included writer Jack London, Olympic swimmer and surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku and General George Patton. One of the largest working cattle ranches in the state, it is also enormously valuable: Appraisers say nearby Rice Ranch, with just 10,000 acres, is likely worth close to $50 million.

Approaching the modest ranch office, there is a small sign posted on a fence nearby that reads “Kapalaea,” the Hawaiian place name for the land where a native forest once grew.

The first thing you see upon entering the Baldwin homestead is a massive camphor tree surrounded by lawn. Beneath its spreading boughs, generations of this family have gathered for weddings, birthdays and funerals. The homestead is the family compound for some fourth, fifth and sixth generations of Baldwins. The compound’s scattered residences—six in total—are largely hidden from each other amid the 21 acres of lawns and gardens.

Kristina Lyons Lambert, 44, the great-great-great-granddaughter of H.P. Baldwin, and her husband, Tom, live in the 7,500-square-foot, nine-bedroom ranch home with their three school-age children. Built in 1918 by her great-grandparents, it is considered a prime example of a Hawaiian-style ranch house. As you step onto the lanai, which is the local term for a veranda, one of the first things you see is a large, movable day bed, known as a pune’e, which are often found in old-style Hawaiian homes.

On one side of the grand entry are two sitting rooms. “This side was the ladies parlor room and that was the gentlemen’s,” explains Samuel Alexander Baldwin Lyons, Mrs. Lambert’s uncle, who grew up in the home and lives elsewhere on Maui. A newly renovated kitchen is tucked behind what had been the ladies parlor, out of sight of guests. In early April, because of the high elevation and cool weather, wood fires burned in the fireplaces in the library as well as the parlor.

There are five residences in addition to the Lamberts’ located on the Kapalaea property. All are historic.

Two of the residences—Kristina’s mother’s home and a small schoolhouse that is periodically used as a guest cottage for family visitors—were built in 1918.

The other three structures, all small cottages, were built during the 1930s. Ms. Lambert’s brother and his family live in one; their cousins and their families live in the other two. There is also a swimming pool in the compound, but for years it has been kept empty—the water used for agricultural purposes instead.

“Early visitors to the Haleakala Ranch included writer Jack London, Olympic swimmer and surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku and General George Patton.”

Haleakala Ranch is small compared with the land owned by Hawaii’s single largest cattle operation, the Parker Ranch on the Big Island, with its 130,000 acres. Haleakala Ranch has about 1,400 breeding cows, 2,000 goats and 350 ewes on 23,400 working acres, as well as various small lessee ventures, such as zip line tours and protea and lavender farms. But unlike Parker Ranch, which is now owned by a charitable trust, the Baldwin’s ranch is a for-profit business. A ranch spokesperson described the ranch as “modestly profitable.”

The ranch’s history begins in 1869, when H.P. Baldwin, a missionaries’ son involved in Hawaii’s then-burgeoning sugar industry, bought the 16½-acre parcel with a partner. He soon sold his half-interest back, but less than 20 years later repurchased it as part of deal to acquire a 50% interest in 30,000 acres of upcountry land.

By exerting strong control over sugar production and prices, and by hiring thousands of low-wage workers from Asia and elsewhere, Mr. Baldwin’s company and the rest of the Big Five became highly profitable, and wielded their influence in Hawaii’s politics as well. Following the incorporation of the Haleakala Ranch in 1888, Mr. Baldwin became an equal shareholder in it with Lorrin A. Thurston, who helped lead the overthrow of Hawaii’s Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893. H.P. Baldwin was one of the few businessmen arguing for constitutional change instead of overthrow. Native Hawaiians and others continue to protest the overthrow as illegal.

In 1927, the Territory of Hawaii swapped land from the ranch to create the Haleakala National Park in an exchange for nearby agricultural lands. In 1983, the ranch gave 5,400 acres of watershed to the Nature Conservancy in a conservancy easement.

One concern is a jury verdict against the ranch in Maui’s Second Circuit Court over public access rights to a trail over its property leading to the volcano. A local historian testified in early April on behalf of the plaintiffs, which include Public Access Trails Hawaii and the state of Hawaii, that the trail had been historically public. The ranch argued that the trail was private, adding that it has offered free guided hikes on it to the public for over a year. On April 23, the jury decided that the trail was on public lands and ruled against the ranch on all counts. In a statement, ranch president Don Young says the company is considering appealing the verdict.

The case is one of many matters to be discussed this June, when members of the Baldwins will travel from across the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland U.S. to Kapalaea for the ranch’s annual shareholder meeting. Last year they also celebrated the ranch’s 125th anniversary.

Also on the agenda is Ms. Lambert’s growing role as a leader of the family business and legacy. The 95 family shareholders will vote on whether she should join the seven-member family board that oversees the Haleakala Ranch business.

The family tradition is to close the meeting with cocktails and pupus (appetizers) served under the massive camphor tree.