This stone and mortar building, completed in 1837, is the oldest surviving Christian church in the state of Hawaiʻi, started by the first Protestant missionaries to land in Hawaiʻi.
With the permission of Liholiho (Kamehameha II), the missionaries built a grass house for worship in 1823 and, later, a large thatched meeting house.
Missionary Asa Thurston directed the construction of the present Mokuʻaikaua Church, then the largest building in Kailua-Kona. Its massive size indicates the large Hawaiian population living in or near Kailua at that time.
Mokuʻaikaua, with its 112-foot-tall steeple, is a reminder of the enthusiasm and energy of the first American missionaries and their Hawaiian converts.
Built of stones taken from a nearby heiau and lime made of burned coral, it represents the new western architecture of early 19th-century Hawaiʻi and became an example that other missionaries would imitate.
The original thatch church which was built in 1823 but was destroyed by fire in 1835, the present structure was completed in 1837. Mokuʻaikaua takes its name from a forest area above Kailua from which timbers were cut and dragged by hand to construct the ceiling and interior.
Mokuʻaikaua Church is centered in a small level lot near the center of Kailua. Its high steeple stands out conspicuously and has become a landmark from both land and sea.
Huge corner stones, said to have been hewn by order of King ʻUmi in the 16th century for a heiau, were set in place and offers evidence of the heavy labor which contributed to the Church’s construction.
The central core of the steeple is polygonal with alternating sections of wide and narrow clapboard. The wider sections are articulated with louvered arches. The 48 by 120 feet lava rock and coral mortared church is capped with a gable roof.
Construction beams are made from ʻōhiʻa wood. Pieces of the wooden structure were joined with ʻōhiʻa pins. The spanning beams are fifty feet long and are made from ʻōhiʻa timbers. Corner stones were set in place 20 to 30 feet above the ground.
Mokuʻaikaua Church is the first and one of the largest stone churches in Hawaiʻi, outstanding for its simple, well-proportioned mass and construction.
The interior open timber structure with high galleries is a fine architectural and engineering design. The architectural interest is further enhanced by the church’s historical significance (it is on the Register of Historic Places.)
In 1910, a memorial arch was erected at the entrance to the church grounds to commemorate the arrival of the first missionaries.
Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean, rounded Cape Horn, aboard the Brig Thaddeus. A replica of the Thaddeus is in Mokuʻaikaua Church.
On the morning of April 4, 1820, 163 days from Boston, the Congregational Protestant missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham, aboard the Thaddeus, came to anchor off the village of Kailua.
They came ashore at the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawaiʻi, where Kailua Pier now stands. Christian worship has taken place near this site since 1820. Mokuʻaikaua is known as the “First Christian Church of Hawaiʻi.”
Inspired by the dream of Hawaiian Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, seven couples were sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity.
Two Ordained Preachers Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; Two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; A Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; A Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; A Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
The Thurstons remained in Kailua, while their fellow missionaries went to establish stations on other Hawaiian islands.