Lorenzo and Betsy Lyons arrived in the Hawaiian Islands as missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) on the ‘Averick’ on May 17, 1832. They were part of the large Fifth Company, including the Alexanders, Armstrongs, Emersons, Forbes, Hitchcocks, Lymans and others.
Ultimately, 17 missionary stations were created throughout the Islands; these became the centers for establishing outlying churches (each church served as a community gathering area and was typically accompanied by a school.)
By 1831 eleven hundred schools had been established by the missionaries. The schools were organized in the most populated areas and native teachers and lay-ministers were appointed to administer them.
On July 16 1832, Lyons replaced Reverend Dwight Baldwin as minister at Waimea, South Kohala, Hawai‘i. Lyons’ “Church Field” was centered in Waimea, at what is now the historic church ‘Imiola.
On October 15, 1840, Kamehameha III enacted a law that required the maintenance and local support of the native schools in all populated areas. By this time, one church and school each were established in Kawaihae and Puakō.
By 1851, the lands on which the churches and schools were situated were formally surveyed and conveyed to their respective administrative organizations. (Maly)
Lyons built fourteen churches in the expanse of his mission station including Waipi‘o Valley, Honokaʻa, Kawaihae and Puakō. Each of the churches represented the designs of New England congregational churches.
Each church was constructed of materials found where the church was built. Some were constructed of lava rock and some of wood. The churches at Kawaihae and Puakō were built of lava rock.
The construction of the Hokuloa Church (Hoku loa – ‘evening star’) in Puakō began in 1858 and was completed and dedicated March 20, 1860. It’s the oldest functioning lava rock structure in the district of South Kohala.
The building is rectangular in shape, approximately 25 feet by 40 feet. The original wooden floor was repaired several times; seriously damaged during the tsunami of 1960 and in 1967, it was replaced with concrete.
The 10-foot walls are constructed of lava rocks bound with burnt coral mortar. The side walls vary from two to three feet thick with the gabled ends being the thinner part.
Most of the wood used for construction of the building was hauled from forests growing at higher elevations. Some of the wood was brought by ship from the northwest US. The ships delivered the wood to the edge of the Puakō reef where it was dropped into the ocean and dragged to land.
The original shingled roof was replaced several times with metal sheet roofs and then again in 1990 with a fireproof shingle made of a composite material.
The bell tower houses the original bell purchased from New England for the church by Rev Lyons and installed for the dedication in 1860.
“The stone church, with its whitened walls, and reddened roof and humble spire give the place an air of civilization and religiousness, and the school house in close proximity with its similar walls though thatched roof, makes something of a show, and indicated the existence of a school.” (Lyons, 1863)
“This school carries 18 children on the register, but only 10 attended on the day I was there. The proficiency of the scholars was not very satisfactory. I am inclined to believe that ‘the Schoolmaster is abroad’ too much of his time, he living at Kawaihae too far from the school; but none other was to be had.” (School Inspector Gulick, 1865)
“Puakō is a village on the shore, very like Kawaihae, but larger. It has a small harbor in which naive vessels anchor. Coconut groves give it a verdant aspect. No food grows in the place. The people make salt and catch fish. These they exchanged for vegetables grown elsewhere.” (Lorenzo Lyons, 1835)
“This parish is from 13 to 18 miles SW of Waimea and consists of several small villages, one of which is Puakō. These villages are mostly beautified by tall waving coconuts groves – the lauhala , the loulu or low palm tree – and Kou tree – and some other shrubbery. “
“There are also fish ponds where the delicious mullet etc sport and valuable salt grounds, that furnish employment for both sexes.” (Lyons, 1863)
“This is the poorest parish in my field, rendered still poorer of late by the frequent rains that have prevented the people from making salt – one of their chief dependencies …”
“… the wind – rough weather, and the heat of the volcanic stream that entered the sea near this place have killed or frightened away all their fish and the second source of wealth. There remain the fruit of a few cocoa nut trees, and the lauhala from their leaf of which the women busy themselves in making mats.” (Lyons, 1859)
Rev Lyons died in 1886 at the age of 79. After Lyon’s death the trained ministers and lay leaders of the Imiola Church continued to lead regular worship services at the Puakō Church; the school also continued.
The Puakō school was closed in the 1920s and Ihe children from Puakō were sent to the Kawaihae school. However, students who wanted to progress beyond the ninth grade went to Kohala and Honoka‘a for the upper grades.
The Hokuloa Church was not completely abandoned, although regular services were no longer held. Church members from Imiola from time to time would come to the Puakō church to hold small worship and prayer gatherings. The building lost its roof and bell tower.
In the early 1950s Puakō lands were subdivided into more than 165 house lots and sold at public auction. But it wasn’t until the 1960s when most of the lots had been sold that they began to be used for vacation hideaways.
In 1960 a tsunami which originated in Chile inundated the northern end of Puakō and did extensive damage to the inside of the Hokuloa Church. By 1966, the National Park Service had surveyed the building, and a group of Puakō residents formed to begin repairs of the Hokuloa Church.
In 1990 the building was completely restored and a new congregation was established. (Lots of information here is from the Hokuloa National Register Nomination form.)
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