All the known Hawaiian eruptions since 1778 have been at Mauna Loa and Kilauea Volcanoes, except for the 1800–1801 eruption of Hualālai Volcano on the west coast of Hawai‘i Island.
For the past 200 years, Mauna Loa and Kilauea have tended to erupt on average every two or three years, placing them among the most frequently active volcanoes of the world.
The individual Kilauea eruptions recorded historically are in addition to the nearly continuous eruptive activity within or near Halema‘uma‘u Crater, extending throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century.
Simultaneous eruption of both volcanoes has been rare except at times when Kilauea was continuously active before 1924. The only post-1924 occurrence of simultaneous eruption was in March 1984, when activity at both volcanoes overlapped for one day.
Between 1934 and 1952, only Mauna Loa was active and, between 1952 and 1974, only Kilauea was. (Tilling) Since July 1950, Hawaiian eruptive activity has been dominated by frequent and sometimes prolonged eruptions at Kilauea, while only a couple short lived eruptions have occurred at Mauna Loa (July 1975 and March-April 1984).
Except for the nearly continuous eruptive activity at Halema‘uma‘u for a century before 1924, and at Mauna Loa summit between 1872 and 1877, the Pu‘u ‘O‘o eruption became the longest lasting single Hawaiian eruption in recorded history.
“The wonderful volcano of Kīlauea, on the island of Hawaii, is the great attractive of visitors. It is the only crater in the world that is constantly in action, and that can be safely approached at all times to the very edge of the precipice which encloses the boiling lava.”
“To reach Kīlauea necessitates a passage of thirty hours from Honolulu in a fine steamer to Hilo or Punalu‘u, then a ride of thirty miles in coaches takes visitors to a fine hotel, which overlooks the molten lava lake. It is a sight that will repay the effort and expense incurred ten times over, and one that will never be forgotten.” (Whitney)
The earliest structure associated with Volcano House can be traced back all the way to 1846 when Benjamin Pitman constructed a four walled thatched shelter “in the native style.” It was a simple, one-room 12-by-18-foot shelter made of grass and native ohia wood poles is built and later dubbed “Volcano House.” The name stuck. (NPS)
The NPS records include a Volcano House Register, essentially a Guest Book; this started at Pitman’s Volcano House. Orramel H Gulick donated the first blank volume of the Volcano House Register. Gulick noted in the preface,
“Travelers and passersby are requested by the donor of this book to record their names in it and to note all, or any, volcanic phenomena that may come under their notice during their stay or at the time of their visit. By so doing, this record may become of great value, some years hence, to the scientific world.”
The first entry of Volume 1 is dated February 8, 1864; here JB Swain starts, “Having been located in this vicinity for the year last past I have noticed that the volcano has been in greater activity the last month than at any time throughout the last year. Within the last few days jets of lava could be seen from the Volcano House during the day, a circumstance not before observed.”
Later (1866), a four-room wood frame, thatched-roof Volcano House replaced the original building. One of its early guests was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).
Mark Twain recounts his Volcano House stay in a November 16, 1866 Sacramento Daily Union article, “Neat, roomy, well furnished and a well kept hotel … The surprise of finding a good hotel at such an outlandish spot startled me, considerably more than the volcano did.”
Royal Geographical Society traveler Isabella Bird visited in 1872. Bird remarked “The inn is a grass and bamboo house, very beautifully constructed without nails.”
“It is a longish building with a steep roof divided inside by partitions which run up to the height of the walls. There is no ceiling. The joists which run across are concealed by wreaths of evergreens, from among which peep out here and there stars on a blue ground.”
In 1877, William Lentz, a carpenter from Baltimore, built a more permanent western-style Volcano House hotel; it was located on the flat area fronting the present Volcano Art Center. King Kalākaua, Louis Pasteur and Robert Louis Stevenson are among its guests.
By 1891, the popularity of Volcano House hotel was booming. The hotel had traded hands again, this time to Lorrin A Thurston, a Honolulu businessman and controversial historic figure. Thurston formed the “Volcano House Company” in partnership with the steamship companies that operated in Hawaiʻi at the time.
In 1891, this partnership increased capacity of the hotel with a 2-story Victorian-style addition to the Ka‘ū side of the building. Even with the addition, space in the hotel was barely enough for demand. At times, the lodge was so crowded that the billiard table in the parlor would be used as a bed.
In 1912, Thomas Jaggar built the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which he located on edge of the crater (at the site of the existing Volcano House). The concrete vault of the observatory Jaggar was called the Whitney Laboratory of Seismology (named after Edward and Caroline Whitney, whose estate subscribed $25,000 for research into the science of volcanoes).
In 1921 the Volcano House grew again; in addition, the 1877 section of the building was removed from the 1891 Victorian addition and moved behind the new structure, back to where it currently is (the Volcano Art Center building). A two-story wing was then added to the Victorian addition, bringing the number of rooms from 25 to 104.
A lack of tourism due to the Great Depression forced the company to sell the hotel at a sheriff’s auction. George Lycurgus, sole bidder and a previous manager of the hotel, purchased the building for $300.
“Uncle George”, as he later became known, would go on to manage the hotel until his death in 1959. Lycurgus hosted celebrities such as Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart,
On February 7, 1940, tragedy struck; the Volcano House burnt to the ground. A kitchen fire raged out of control and claimed the entire building. The next day, Volcano House was open for business as the smaller 1877 building was pressed back into service to accommodate guests.
In 1941, NPS paid for the construction of a new 24-room wood-and-stone hotel; it is designed by noted architect Charles W Dickey. The hotel was also relocated about 200 yards from its former site, across Crater Rim Drive on the caldera’s edge. (The 1941 Volcano House having been constructed over it.)
On November 8, 1941, the new hotel opened for business. Over the years, the list of guests included Dwight D Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, Dr. Charles W. Mayo, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon as well as many others.
The Park Headquarters (Administration Building) was built in June 1932; in 1949 it was turned over to the Volcano House Hotel. At that time, Lycurgus renamed the building the Ohia Wing and converted the interior into 10-guestrooms with private baths. In 1953, an eight-room wing was added to the main hotel building.
The legacy of this historic hotel continues. Today, the Volcano House Hotel has 33-guest rooms; in addition, the hotel manages 10 cabins and 16 campsites located at Nāmakanipaio Campground about 3-miles from the hotel.
As they have done for over centuries, people flock to Kīlauea to experience the wonder of nature at work. As it has always done, Volcano House Hotel provides a good meal and warm hearth to those that make the journey.
(In 1935, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not stated that the “fire in the fireplace in the Volcano House has been burning continuously for 61 years”; and, it continued to do so for many more years. However, “the fabled fireplace was allowed to go out New Year’s Day 2010.” (Hawaii Magazine)) (Information here is from various documents of the NPS.)