The first mission station on Kauai was established at Waimea on the more accessible south coast in 1820. In 1834, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent the Reverend William P. Alexander to investigate the north coast of Kauai for a suitable location for a second station.
He chose the Hanalei area because of its harbor, fertile soil and needs of the people. The actual site was called Waiʻoli, “Singing Waters”.
The Waiʻoli Mission District consists of the main Waiʻoli Mission Residence (1836,) the old Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church (1841,) the new Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church (1912) and related improvements.
Rev. Alexander and his wife and son moved there in 1834 and began work immediately, preaching to hundreds of islanders in a huge thatched meeting house, while living in a small grass hut.
The Alexanders carried on alone with their work until 1837 when the Board of Commissioners sent a teaching couple, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Johnson, to the mission. In the meantime, the Alexanders built a frame house for their growing family.
To help make ends meet, the mission planted crops in land donated by the Governor of Kauaʻi. The students helped cultivate the crops, and in so doing, learned agricultural techniques. Cotton was tried without much success. Sugar cane proved much more suitable.
As the center of mission activities on the Hanalei side of Kauai, Waiʻoli Church and Mission House played an important role in the history of that part of the island.
Deborah Kapule, the dowager Queen of Kauai and an earnest convert, assisted in establishing the Mission. Governor Kaikioewa of Kauai provided the land and encouraged the Mission in many ways.
The Old Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church is actually the third church built on its site. The first was a huge thatch structure built by the local populace when they heard that a permanent missionary was to be sent to them.
It was constructed in 1832, but destroyed by fire in 1834, just prior to the arrival of the Rev. William Alexander. He immediately built another similar structure, but it was destroyed by a storm in 1837.
In 1841, Rev. Alexander dedicated the present Old Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church; it is the oldest church on the Island of Kauai.
In 1843, the Alexanders were transferred to the Lāhainā station due to illness and the Rev. and Mrs. George Rowell took their place.
In 1846, Rev. Rowell and his wife were transferred to Waimea. Mr. and Mrs. Abner Wilcox and their four boys were sent from Oʻahu to take over the teaching duties. Mr. Wilcox was to “raise up teachers for the common schools of the island and to prepare those who may go from our Island to the High School”.
In 1853, the American Board finally transferred the Sandwich Islands Mission to the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, which had the status of a “home mission”. To round out the missionaries’ pensions, the American Board divided mission lands among them.
In this manner, the Waiʻoli home was deeded to the Wilcox family. They had decided to make their home in Hawaiʻi rather than return to the mainland. However, in 1869, while on a visit to relatives in New England, Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox suddenly fell ill and died.
The sons took over the Waiʻoli property, managing the farm operation and keeping the buildings in good repair. Albert Wilcox was the last to live in the frame house, moving out in 1877.
The sons went on to become some of the most prominent figures in Hawaii. George N. Wilcox became a highly successful sugar planter on Kauai and entered politics.
He was elected to the legislature. In 1887, he was elected to the House of Nobles, and after Kalākaua’s death, was appointed Minister of the Interior by Queen Liliuokalani.
After the fall of the monarchy, he served the Republic of Hawaiʻi in the constitutional convention, and later, in the Senate. All the while, he continued his sugar operations at the Grove Farm Plantation on Kauai, as well as participating in various other enterprises. The other Wilcox boys also played important parts in monarchy, Republic and Territorial commerce and politics.
In 1912, the current church building was built with donations from Sam, George and Albert Wilcox (sons of the missionary couple who were born at the station). The old 1841 church was used as the Mission Hall. The old mission bell was used in the belfry.
In 1921, Wilcox descendants funded architect Hart Wood to restore the Mission House and the Mission Hall. By 1945, it merged with the Anini Church and the Haʻena Church to become the Huiʻia Church.
Having survived two previous hurricanes, Hurricane Dot and Hurricane Iwa, both the Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church Sanctuary and the Waiʻoli Mission Hall were restored after sustaining significant damage from Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Both buildings are listed on the state and national registers of historic places.
The Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church has had a continuous record of service since 1834, first as a Congregational Church and since 1957 as a United Church of Christ.