Harvey Rexford Hitchcock sailed as a missionary with the Fifth Company of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They sailed aboard the Averick, leaving New Bedford, November 26, 1831 and arriving in Honolulu, May 17, 1832.
He was assigned to Molokai and established the first permanent Mission Station on the Island at Kaluaʻaha in 1832. Rebecca Hitchcock noted shortly after their arrival that there was not a foreigner on the island and no horses except for a lame one belonging to a chief. (Curtis)
Hitchcock preached his first sermon in Hawaiian the last week of September 1832 in the open air.
The Hawaiian Association, meeting in Lāhainā, Maui, on June 19, 1833, adopted a resolution stating: “Resolved that the native Hawaiian members of the Church resident at Kaluaʻaha, Molokai, be a particular Church with the Reverend Harvey Rexford Hitchcock as pastor.”
In the Molokai Station Report, Hitchcock wrote, “in about two months a meeting house was finished 30 feet by 120.” It was probably built of thatch. (HABS)
“There is a delightful cluster of shade trees before our door, which was formerly a favorite resort of the chiefs; and under it, for several successive weeks, we met for the worship … On our arrival, there was no house of any importance, and few of any kind in the vicinity.”
“During the year, however, many comfortable houses have been built, with sleeping apartments, and other accommodations which give to them an air of neatness and comfort hitherto unknown on the island.” (Smith; Missionary Herald)
In 1834, the Hitchcocks received additional help with the arrival of Rev and Mrs Lowell Smith (Smith was a college mate of Hitchcock – who arrived on the Sixth Company in 1833.)
The expanding mission was growing close to 500 members and two outstations, one in the east and one in the west, had been established.
In 1835, a second meeting house was of a more permanent nature, “The meeting house … has been completed. It is built of stone laid up in mud mixed with grass. The walls are three feet thick; It is 90 feet long and 42 wide and 12 feet high plastered and whitewashed outside an in.”
“The frame of the house is of the first rate. The thatching is of the leaf of the spiral pandanus, surmounted at the ends and ridgepole by a thick border of the ki leaf. The framework inside is concealed by large light-colored mats nailed to the underside of the beams, and the floor consists of a carpet of the same material. The pulpit is three feet high made perfectly plain.”
“The base is a block of masonry. It accommodates probably between 1,200 and 1,300 hearers. It could not have been built by contract for less than $2000 but has cost the mission little more than $100. It was dedicated December 6 when Mr. Richards preached … The house was crowded and hundreds could not get in.” (HABS)
By 1836 the membership of the church had increased to 655, then doubled by 1843. The need for a larger building and the probability that repairs on the 1835 building were imminent were reported in the Molokai Station Report which continued, “it (the new building) has been commenced and the stone work about 1/4 or a little more up.” This was the third and present church. (HABS)
In the mid-1840s, they were working on building a new church; “Our main work the past year has been the erection of a permanent house of worship … Preparing most of the timber and getting it onto the ground from the distance of ten miles or more, procuring many of the stones for building …”
It was dedicated on April 3, 1844; “The house has been completed nearly two months. It is 100 feet long by 50 broad outside; walls 2-1/2 feet thick and 18 feet high”.
“The thatching is pilimaoli. It leaks but little; has 4 doors three of which are 7 feet high and about as wide…” (Hitchcock; HABS) (In 1908, it was reportedly the largest building outside Honolulu.) (Hawaiian Evangelical Association, 1908)
The structure was constructed out of fieldstone, walls plastered on both sides. A double row of 14-inch wood columns with 17-inch wood beams supported the interior trusses, and matching columns were also added along each side wall. The interior was a single large open space with raised lectern and choir platform across the east end. (NPS)
Kaluaʻaha Church, known as the Mother Church on Molokai, is the oldest Congregational Church on the island. It is also one of the largest churches built in its time in Hawaiʻi.
The dilapidated condition of the church building was reported in 1897, but it appears that it was not re-roofed and replastered until 1899. After this there was apparently a period of “disuse” until 1908 as noted by the church report for that year.
“The installation of Rev. Isaac D. Iaea as pastor of the long vacant Kaluaʻaha Church was an occasion of great joy and satisfaction to the people of this sidetracked island. The fine old church was filled.” (Hawaiian Evangelical Association, 1908)
By 1917 the membership of the church had dropped to 60. Used off and on; modestly repaired, on May 15, 1967 the steeple, which had tilted for years, fell from its base to the ground. (Remnants of the church are still there; in 2009, a new roof was built inside the walls of the existing church.)