For several years after the American Board missionaries reached Lahaina in 1823, church services were held in temporary structures.
The first mission to Maui was founded by Reverend William Richards at that time. For a few years, temporary structures made from wooden poles with a thatched roof were used.
The church started under the name Waine‘e Church (“Moving Water.”) In 1826, it was blown down by wind and replaced by stone and wood.
In 1828, the chiefs, led by Ulumāheihei Hoapili, proposed to build a new stone church. The cornerstone was laid on September 14, 1828, for this ‘first stone meeting-house built at the Islands’; it was dedicated on March 4, 1832.
Waine‘e served as the church for Hawaiian royalty during the time when Lāhainā was effectively the Kingdom’s capital, from the 1820s through the mid-1840s.
In 1858, a whirlwind ravaged the roof and church steeple, but was repaired without too much trouble. The church stood safely for another 36 years, until it was destroyed by fire in 1894.
A new church building was built, a gift from Henry P. Baldwin, and that lasted another 50 years until it was partially destroyed by fire again. It was restored and re-dedicated only to be completely destroyed by a Kaua‘ula wind (a strong wind, especially in Lāhainā, that shifted from one point to another) three years later.
The Church finally changed its name from Waine‘e Church, to Waiola Church (“Water of Life”) in 1954, and has been safely and well taken care of since. The materials changed over time from grass, to coral, then to stone and wood, and then to the stronger materials such as brick.
The present church structure and the old cemetery occupy a tract of 2.45-acres on Waine‘e Street, between Chapel and Shaw Streets. The property is owned by the Waiola Protestant Church.
The priesthood at the church has changed multiple times since the original establishing of the church, and some reputable and well-known priests and preachers including, Dwight Baldwin, who preached from 1837 to 1868.
Waiola Church has extremely strong cultural ties to the people and land of Hawaiʻi. Waiola church served royalty for years, as Lāhainā was the capital of the Kingdom.
Waiola Church is one of the few still-standing buildings and monuments of the Hawaiian royalty long ago, and the great changes that Hawai‘i and its people went through in the 19th century.
Rev. Ephraim Spaulding joined with his wife Juliet Brooks from 1832 to 1836. Missionary Rev. Dwight Baldwin transferred here in 1836, and served as physician. The Baldwins rebuilt the house of the Spaulding’s.
Reportedly, the church is immortalized in James Michener’s Hawai‘i (as Reverend Abner Hale’s church in Lāhainā.)
The adjoining cemetery is said to date from 1823. Several members of the royal family were buried in the cemetery. A notable aspect of the cemetery is that the missionaries and native Hawaiians were buried side by side.
It contains the body of Keōpūolani (“Gathering of the Clouds of Heaven”), wife of Kamehameha the Great and mother of Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III.
She and Ka‘ahumanu were largely responsible for the abolition of the kapu system. Keōpūolani is said to have been the first convert of the missionaries in the islands, receiving baptism from Rev. William Ellis in Lāhainā on September 16, 1823.
Other prominent Hawaiian nobles interred there include King Kaumuali‘i, Queen Kalākua, Princess Nahiʻenaʻena, Governor Hoapili and Governess Liliha. Here, too, is buried the Rev. William Richards, a pioneer missionary and advisor to the Hawaiian monarchy.