The church began on August 19, 1832; the first services were held under a thatched roof.
The present Kaʻahumanu Church is actually the fourth place of worship for the Wailuku congregation. The original congregation, under the leadership of the Reverend Jonathan S Green, was forced to hold their meetings in a shed.
During its first year, Queen Kaʻahumanu, the Kuhina Nui of the Kingdom and convert to Christianity, visited the congregation and asked that when the congregation built an actual church, it be named for her.
Queen Kaʻahumanu was Kamehameha’s favorite wife. She was, at one time, arguably, the most powerful figure in the Hawaiian Islands, helping usher in a new era for the Hawaiian kingdom.
When Kamehameha died on May 8, 1819, the crown was passed to his son, Liholiho, who would rule as Kamehameha II.
Kaʻahumanu created the office of Kuhina Nui (similar to premier, prime minister or regent) and would rule as an equal with Liholiho. She ruled first with Kamehameha II until his departure for England in 1823 (where he died in 1824) and then as regent for Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III).
Ka‘ahumanu assumed control of the business of government, including authority over land matters, the single most important issue for the Hawaiian nation for many generations to come. She later married Kauaʻi’s chief, Kaumualiʻi, who Kamehameha I had made a treaty with instead of fighting and thereby put all the islands under single control.
On December 4, 1825, Queen Kaʻahumanu was baptized and received her new name, Elizabeth, then labored earnestly to lead her people to Christ.
The congregation’s small shed meeting house soon proved too small as the service held there attracted as many as 3,000 worshippers. In 1834, a larger meeting house with a thatched roof was erected by the congregation.
The Reverend Richard Armstrong who had replaced the Reverend Green as pastor in 1836, supervised the construction of two stone meeting houses one at Haiku, and the other at Wailuku. The new Wailuku Church, completed in 1840, was 100 feet by 52 feet, and was two stories (actually one story and a gallery) in height. Reverend Green returned to replace Armstrong in 1840.
In 1843, the Reverend Green was replaced by the Reverend EW Clark. Five years later, Clark was transferred to Kawaiahaʻo Church in Honolulu, and the Reverend Daniel Conde took over the pastorate at Wailuku. Later, Reverend WP Alexander became pastor.
Active fundraising under Pastor William Pulepule Kahale led to the opportunity to finally build a permanent church. Under the direction of Reverend Edward Bailey, in May, 1876, the new church, finally named the Kaʻahumanu Church, was completed.
Only a rock retaining wall that borders High Street in Wailuku is what remains of the old church.
The Kaʻahumanu Church is a large blue stone structure with wall more than two feet thick. It has a high-pitched gable roof with no overhang, but the eave terminates in a small molding adjacent to the top place along the wall.
The exterior is finished in plaster. The church tower was not added until 1884 with a “fine tower clock from the U.S. costing $1,000.” In 1892 the chandeliers were added to the interior.
The structure is four bays in depth with each bay having a single tall Gothic arched window with the interior of the window opening splayed. Windows are multi-paned, double-hung wood frame with simple pattern in the upper part of the arch.
Adjoining the church is Honoliʻi Park. It is believed that John Honoliʻi, a Native Hawaiian who had studied at Cornwall, Connecticut with Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia and later sailed aboard the brig Thaddeus with the original Protestant missionaries in 1820, is buried in an unmarked grave in the Kaʻahumanu Church cemetery. (Honoliʻi died in 1838.)
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