Kapunahou, the site of the present Punahou School campus, was given to Kameʻeiamoku by Kamehameha, after the Battle of Nuʻuanu. The land transferred to his son Hoapili, who resided there from 1804 to 1811. Hoapili passed the property to his daughter Kuini Liliha.
Sworn testimony before the Land Commission in 1849, and that body’s ultimate decision, noted that the “land was given by Governor Boki about the year 1829 to Hiram Bingham for the use of the Sandwich Islands Mission.”
The decision was made over the objection from Liliha; however Hoapili confirmed the gift. It was considered to be a gift from Kaʻahumanu, Kuhina Nui or Queen Regent at that time.
In Hiram Bingham’s time, the main part of the Kapunahou property was planted with sugarcane by his wife Sybil, with the aid of the female church-members.
Bingham’s idea was to make Kapunahou the parsonage, and to support his family from the profits of this cane field, selling the cane to the sugar mills, one of which was in Honolulu.
The other mill was in Mānoa Valley, owned by an Englishman; but he also made rum, and Queen Kaʻahumanu’s consistent hostility to rum caused his failure, and also the failure of sugar-cane culture at Punahou. (Punahou Catalogue, 1866)
Founded in 1841, Punahou School (originally called Oʻahu College) was built at Kapunahou to provide a quality education for the children of Congregational missionaries, allowing them to stay in Hawaiʻi with their families, instead of being sent away to school. The first class had 15 students.
The land area of Kapunahou was significantly larger than the present school campus size.
While many see Punahou today as the college preparatory school in lower Mānoa, over the years, the school, though based at Kapunahou, also had campuses and activities elsewhere.
All students who entered the Boarding department were required to take part in the manual labor of the institution, under the direction of the faculty, not to exceed an average of two hours for each day. (Punahou Catalogue, 1899)
“We had a dairy, the Punahou dairy, over on the other side of Rocky Hill. That was all pasture. We had beautiful, delicious milk, all the milk you wanted. The cows roamed from there clear over to the stone wall on Manoa hill. There were a few gates and those gates caused me trouble because the bulls wanted to get out or some boys would leave a bar down … Occasionally, just often enough to keep me alert, there would be a bull wandering around across the road and down the hill onto Alexander Field or just where I wanted to go.” (Shaw, Punahou)
By vote of the trustees, the standard of the school was raised, and the course of study included a thorough drill in elementary algebra, Latin, colloquial and written French, and a careful study of the poems of Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Bryant and Emerson. There is also regular instruction in freehand drawing and vocal music through the year. Lectures were given with experiments, designed to serve as an introduction to the study of physical science. A brief course in physiology and hygiene was given by the president of the College. (Punahou Catalogue, 1899)
In 1881, at the fortieth anniversary celebration of the school, a public appeal was made to provide for a professorship of natural science and of new buildings. President William L Jones in his speech expressed the need for Punahou to meet the changing times.
He said: “The missionaries when they landed here were all cultivated gentlemen, trained in the colleges of the United States, and they were unwilling that their children would suffer from their self exile into this country. … A change has been coming over the aims of college education lately; people desire less Latin and Greek and more Natural Science, more Astronomy, more Chemistry, more modern language … We have to teach Chemistry without laboratory, Astronomy without a telescope, Natural History only from books. More men and machinery is what we want.” (Soong)
The appeal was so successful that the trustees moved to purchase the Reverend Richard Armstrong premises at the head of Richards Street (at 91 Beretania Street adjoining Washington Place) from the Roman Catholic mission for the Punahou Preparatory School (the property had previously been used by the growing St Louis High school.)
On September 19, 1883, the Punahou Preparatory School was opened for the full term at the Armstrong Home … Three of the trustees were present at the opening exercises, together with many parents of the pupils, of whom there were 85 present, with a prospect of a larger attendance … It is the design of the trustees to have no pupils at Punahou proper, except such as are qualified to proceed with the regular academic course. (The Friend, October 4, 1883)
By the 1898-1899 school year, there were 247 students in grades 1-8 in the Punahou Preparatory School campus downtown. Later, in 1902, the Preparatory School was moved to the Kapunahou campus, where it occupied Charles R Bishop Hall.
Near the turn of the last century, the Punahou Board of Trustees decided to subdivide some of the land above Rocky Hill – they called their subdivision “College Hills;” at that time the trolley service was extended into Mānoa, which increased interest in this area.
The College Hills subdivision, the largest subdivision of the time (nearly 100 acres of land separated into parcels of from 10,000- to 20,000-square feet,) opened above Punahou and became a major residential area.
Then, in January 1925, Punahou bought the Honolulu Military Academy property – it had about 90-acres of land and a half-dozen buildings on the back side of Diamond Head. (The Honolulu Military Academy was originally founded by Col LG Blackman, in 1911.)
It served as the “Punahou Farm” to carry on the school’s work and courses in agriculture. “We were picked up and taken to the Punahou Farm School, which was also the boarding school for boys. The girls boarded at Castle Hall on campus.” (Kneubuhl, Punahou) The farm school was in Kaimuki between 18th and 22nd Avenues.
In addition to offices and living quarters, the Farm School supplied Punahou with most of its food supplies. The compound included a big pasture for milk cows, a large vegetable garden, pigs, chickens, beehives, and sorghum and alfalfa fields that provided feed for the cows. Hired hands who tended the farm pasteurized the milk in a small dairy, bottled the honey and crated the eggs. (Kneubuhl, Punahou)
The Punahou dairy herd was cared for by the students as part of their course of studies – the boys boarded there. However, disciplinary troubles, enrollment concerns (not enough boys signing up for agricultural classes) and financial deficits led to its closure in 1929.
By the mid-1930s, the property was generally idle except for some faculty housing. In 1939, Punahou sold the property to the government as a site for a public school (it’s now the site of Kaimuki Middle School.)
In addition to these, there belonged in former times, as an appurtenance to the land known as Kapunahou, a valuable tract of salt-ponds, on the sea-side to the eastward of Honolulu Harbor, called Kukuluāeʻo, and including an area of seventy-seven acres (this was just mauka of what is now Kewalo Basin.) (Punahou Catalogue, 1866)
It’s not clear how/when the makai land “detached” from the other Punahou School pieces, but it did and was given to the ABCFM (for the pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church.)