PHOTOS COURTESY ANNA RANCH
Establishment of the Anna Ranch Heritage Center was the dream of longtime rancher and businesswoman Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske.
Rancher’s rich heritage preserved on Big Isle
If ever there was a poster girl for the independent woman, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske surely was it. Six days a week, you'd find her in jeans and boots, mending fences, branding calves and driving cattle on her verdant homestead in rural Waimea on the Big Island.
Many an afternoon, she'd transform from a ranch hand into a gracious, impeccably dressed hostess, welcoming friends to lunch or a very proper tea.
A community leader and philanthropist who earned a butcher's license and acclaim as a riding instructor, racehorse trainer and jockey, Perry-Fiske lived an exciting, fulfilling life from 1900 to 1995. She was a savvy businesswoman, overseeing Anna Ranch's transition from near bankruptcy when her father died in 1939 to a successful enterprise 56 years later.
"Although Anna loved working hard and didn't mind getting dirty and sweaty, she was the epitome of decorum," said Momi Naughton, executive director of the Anna Ranch Heritage Center.
"She learned how to sew, crochet, embroider and do tatting, and she was known for her lavish parties. On one hand she was an elegant woman who loved to travel, socialize and wear the latest fashions. On the other she was a feisty cowgirl who could keep up with the roughest, toughest cowboys."
PHOTOS COURTESY ANNA RANCH
The ranch house built between 1905 and 1910 is listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places, and its 14 rooms showcase family possessions dating to the early 1900s.
The 110-acre Heritage Center opened last September to honor Perry-Fiske's wish to establish a museum on her property that spotlighted Hawaii's ranching history and the legacy of her esteemed family.
It remains a working cattle ranch, maintaining a herd of about 50 Charolais cattle that often can be seen contentedly grazing in a pasture behind the ranch house. Meticulous care was taken to restore the house, which was built between 1905 and 1910 and is listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places.
Each of its 14 rooms showcases possessions Perry-Fiske and her family -- parents William and Mary Lindsey, brothers Bill and Charles, and husband Lyman Perry-Fiske -- cherished. Resting on wicker chairs on the side porch, for example, are pillows with delicate tatting that were handmade by her mother.
Throughout the house, handsome koa furniture catches the eye; some pieces date back to the early 1900s when Perry-Fiske's parents lived there.
"In Lyman's office is a desk whose wood was likely milled by James Fay, Anna's great-great-grandfather," said Naughton. "James purchased the property in 1848, harvested koa and other native woods, and started the first major sawmill in Waimea. The desk is made of roughly hewn, tongue-and-groove koa with nail holes, which suggests the wood was originally the walls of a house."
Exhibited in the saddle room are saddles, stirrups, spurs, lariats, boots, horse collars and the saddle Bill used when he served in Waimea's cowboy cavalry during World War I.
"We also display photos of his regiment," said Naughton. "This is very significant because before his saddle and the photos were found, no one even knew Waimea had a cavalry during that war."
PORTRAITS OF Perry-Fiske's family and original paintings by notable artists such as D. Howard Hitchcock and Lionel Walden are on view in the living room, along with items that recall their love for music: a player piano; a hand-crank Sonora phonograph; 78-rpm albums by Lena Machado, Sol Hoopii and other popular Hawaiian entertainers from the 1940s; and a century-old music box that still plays Bach and Beethoven without missing a beat.
There are chic hats and dresses in Perry-Fiske's bedroom, including a holoku (gown) that she designed herself; beautiful china in the kitchen and dining room; and fabulous art everywhere -- from a Greek vase to a Tiffany bell clock to coconut bowls, ulu maika (bowling) stones, poi pounders and other Hawaiiana.
In the dining room is a stunning 6-by-4-foot portrait of Perry-Fiske in a yellow silk pa'u, the long split skirt that initially served as a protective covering for women's clothing as they rode on horseback to social events. The pa'u has since evolved into an elaborate costume worn by women equestriennes in local parades.
Pau riders starred in Old Hawaii on Horseback, a benefit for the American Heart Association that Perry-Fiske presented every few years on her front lawn between 1964 and 1983.
"As time passed, she kept expanding the historical theme of the pageant, and it got bigger and bigger," said Naughton. "Toward the end it involved 80 riders representing Queen Kaahumanu; Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop; paniolo (cowboy) Ikua Purdy; Duke Kahanamoku; Capt. George Vancouver, who brought the first cattle to Hawaii; immigrant sugar plantation workers -- just about everyone she could think of to honor."
For several years, Perry-Fiske raised more money for the Heart Association than any other person in the country. Plaques from the association confirm this, and Congress also honored her in 1978 for her humanitarian efforts.
While taking inventory for the development of the exhibits, Naughton gained valuable insights into Perry-Fiske's remarkable life.
"She kept everything," said Naughton. "As I went through the house, I found personal letters, Christmas cards, receipts and photo albums. You really get to know a person when you see those precious bits of history."
It is her hope that visitors will gain the same admiration she has for Perry-Fiske and her accomplishments.
"I would like the Heritage Center to be an educational and community asset," said Naughton. "It provides a valuable link to the past and a way to preserve that past and to honor the history of ranching on the Big Island."
If You Go ......
Anna Ranch Heritage Center
» Address: 65-1480 Kawaihae Road, Waimea, Big Island
» Tours: Ninety-minute tours offered Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. (beginning April 4, tours will be offered at the same times Fridays), and on Saturday at 9 a.m. and 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Reservations required. Tours are limited to 15 people.
» Cost: $7 per person; children under 10 admitted free
» Call: 885-4426
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.annaranch.org
» Notes: A teahouse with wraparound windows that open to spectacular views of a stream, hills and pastureland can be rented for weddings, parties and corporate meetings. Plans call for the renovation of three barns for children's activities, including lassoing and lariat braiding.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.