Legacy of missionaries lives in churches on the Islands

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The first Christian missionaries from the U.S. mainland reached Hawaii in 1820, just after the death of King Kamehameha I and the subsequent collapse of the native Hawaiian religion. The missionaries thus seem to have arrived at just the right time. They settled first in Oahu, then quickly moved on to each of the neighboring islands. By 1835, many of Hawaii's chiefs had converted to Christianity, instructing their people to follow their lead.

Landmarks of the missionary past are to be found on all of the main islands, in old churches and mission schools, in missionary homes that restore a sense of the past and in the printing houses where the kingdom's first books, maps and monetary notes were printed in the 1830s.

Missionary influence went well beyond religion. The missionaries quickly established schools throughout the Islands, providing the native Hawaiians with a written language, printed books and training in the skills and trades suited to changing times.

There are scores of places across Hawaii where the state's missionary past can be studied by visitors. A sampling follows.

Oahu

Downtown Honolulu, about 20 minutes from Waikiki, is home to several of Hawaii's most significant missionary landmarks.

Foremost is the New England-style home built in 1821 by missionary Levi Chamberlain. Along with later additions, it is part of the Mission Houses Museum, which offers daily guided tours of the property.

Adjacent is Kawaiahao Church, completed in 1842 and still in use. It is open daily and welcomes visitors to Sunday services. Many missionaries and other 19th century luminaries are buried in its graveyard.

Maui

By the 1830s, missionaries had settled on Maui in Lahaina, Wailuku and Hana, where churches and schools were established. Many churches survive, most prominently Kaahumanu Congregational Church in Wailuku, and the series of 19th century churches along the Hana Highway, including Wananalua in Hana Town, which welcomes visitors to Sunday services.

Two mission homes also survive, both open to visitors. The Baldwin Home in Lahaina was completed in the early 1830s by medical missionary Dwight Baldwin, whose professional tools are on display.

Just uphill from town, on the grounds of the missionary-founded Lahainaluna School, lies Hale Pai, the printing house where many examples of missionary-era printing are on display. 

In Lahaina, Hale Aloha, completed in 1858 as a church meetinghouse, is open to visitors.

The Maui Historical Society is headquartered in Hale Hoikeike, the Wailuku home of the missionary Bailey family. Completed in 1850, it is within a short walk of Kaahumanu Church.

Kauai

The North Shore town of Hanalei is home to a missionary residence and adjacent mission meetinghouse, both dating to the early 19th century. Small group tours of the Waioli Mission House, built in 1836 by missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox, are offered.

The complex sits in an exquisite setting of wide lawns, towering trees and magnificent mountains. The Meeting House, the only one to survive from the early missionary era, is still in use for church and community events.

Big Island

The Lyman House Museum, completed in 1839 when Hilo's port made it the hub of the Big Island, is elegantly furnished for its time and place. Guided tours are offered daily, and visitors are welcome to explore the adjacent museum, with its exhibits of local history and science.

In North Kohala, the Bond Estate is a marvelously preserved missionary compound dating to the mid-1800s. A missionary-run girls' school nearby has been restored for private use.

The Bond homestead, a short drive up a dirt road from Highway 270, is not currently open to visitors. The adjacent church, which dates back to the 1850s, is still in use.

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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