On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of the American Protestant missionaries set sail on the Thaddeus for Hawai‘i – (two Ordained Preachers, Hiram & Sybil Bingham and Asa and Lucy Thurston; two Teachers, Samuel & Mercy Whitney and Samuel & Mary Ruggles; a Doctor, Thomas & Lucia Holman; a Printer, Elisha & Maria Loomis; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain (and his family.)
With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Humehume. They arrived in Kailua-Kona on April 4, 1820. On May 3, 1820, Ruggles and Whitney took Humehume home to Kauai.
“Visited the king (Kaumuali‘i) and read to him in his Bible. He expresses an earnest desire to know all that is contained in the Bible, saying frequently, I want to understand it; and when you learn my language I shall know it.”
“He often says he wants Atooi (Kauai) to be like America. Today he told me he would support all the mission family if they would come to Atooi—that he would build as many school-houses as we wished, and a large meeting-house, and have a sabbath day and have prayers and singing.” (Ruggles, May 16, 1820)
Kaumuali‘i gave land for the first mission building. This land was on the east side of the Waimea River near the Russian Fort and included enough farmland to grow the food needed for sustaining the mission. The first building was a thatched structure.
After ten years of using the thatched structure, Reverend Samuel Whitney constructed a stone and mud building on the present site of the church. Unfortunately, the stone walls were not soundly stacked and the building toppled over and had to be rebuilt. (Waimea UCC)
In 1846 the Reverend George Berkeley Rowell came from the Waioli Mission to rebuild the stone church. He was an architect and cabinetmaker as well as a pastor. He planned for a grand church that would be the most beautiful building on the island.
The lehua timbers for the roof would be cut down with stone adzes from the steep cliffs of Koke’e and floated in the ocean to treat the wood against termites. (Waimea UCC)
The Great Stone Church was constructed of local sandstone. Its simple rectangular plan is capped by a gable roof with returns, surmounted by a truncated steeple. (SAH)
Limestone blocks would be cut from a ledge about a mile away and dragged to the site by oxen. Mortar was made by diving into the sea a dozen fathoms from canoes to bring up coral to be crushed and burned in a limekiln.
The church members earned money by raising and shipping potatoes to people who had come to California to search for gold. With this new source of income, the work on the church continued.
After seven years of planning and labor, the walls went up in 1853. The building was completed in 1854 (except for the floor, added in 1858), and was dedicated with a worship service.
The building was built in Victorian style as can be noted in the large pointed arches of the windows. The coral-colored exterior stood out and could be seen from some distance at sea.
However the church has become more russet colored over time because of the staining effect of the red earth in the area. The completed church attained a bell that had been created in 1836 for the original stone structure and shipped from New England.
The inscription reads from Psalm 100: “E hele mai imua o kona ale me ke oli ana i ike oukou o Jehova oia no ke akua” (Come before His presence with singing that you may know Jehovah is God). (Waimea UCC)
Rowell presided over it until 1865, when he was suspended from the Hawaiian Evangelical Association on account of his suspect theological positions and reports that he had had illicit relations with a Hawaiian woman.
A number of Hawaiians stood by Rowell, and the pastor and his congregation tried to hold control over the stone church. However, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against them and, in 1867, Rowell and his followers formed the Waimea Hawaiian Church, building a Victorian frame church at the corner of Kaumualii Highway and Halepule Road.
Rowell continued as its pastor until his death in 1884. In 1992 Hurricane Iniki collapsed this charming building; the congregation rebuilt it along the lines of the original.
Following Rowell’s discharge, the Great Stone Church’s congregation greatly declined, and between 1873 and 1889 it had no regular minister. It became the Waimea Foreign Church in 1894.
The church was remodeled around 1920, with the belfry being rebuilt and the openings given shallow Gothic arches. Hurricane Iniki decimated the roof and, in turn, the interior, leading to its restoration in 1993. (SAH)