The History of Kalāhikiola Church
A quarter mile past the King Kamehameha statue of the right, ʻIole Road leads to the Kalāhikiola Church. It has been in use for 164 years. Kalāhikiola translates to "The Day Salvation Comes" in the Hawaiian Bible, and is the name of the hill in the Kohala Mountains where the timber to build the church was harvested.
In 1810 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed by Protestant churches on the east coast and chartered in Massachusetts in 1812. At that time the population of Kohala was about 10,000, all native Hawaiians. By 1872 the population declined to only 2,000, mostly due to disease and epidemics brought in by immigrants.
In 1837 the Board sent Reverend Isaac Bliss and teacher Edward bailey and their wives to serve Kohala. They first lived in Nunulu, an area just above Kapaʻau, east of what is now Kynnersley Road. They attempted to build a church there, but when it blew down in a storm in 1840, they were given permission to move their mission station to ʻIole. That same year, the Baileys were reassigned to Lahaina, and in May of 1841 Reverend Bliss, overwhelmed, abandoned his mission, traveling to Kona and asking to be returned home.
In May of 1841 Reverend Elias Bond and his wife, Ellen, both teachers, arrived in Honolulu from New England as part of the Ninth Company of missionaries to these islands. Originally slated for Maui, the Bonds were sent instead to Kohala, to replace Reverend Bailey and Mr. Bliss. They spent the rest of their lives in Kohala.
What Reverend Bond found there was a roofed structure with open sides, built on the site of a former heiʻau, and often inhabited by feral pigs during the week. Unusable, it had to be torn down; the congregation met in a nearby sugar mill at ʻIole.
In 1843 Reverend Bond and his congregation began the construction of a wooden church with a thatched roof. The oʻhia wood was obtained from Kalāhikiola hill, ten miles mauna of the church site. It was hauled overland by hand, as horses were rare at that time, and there were no oxen or mules.
With incessant rains and cold winds in 1844, church attendance diminished, but the little congregation persisted. The church building was completed in November of 1845. Sunday church attendance increased to an average of 900. A bell was donated by a church in New York, whose pastor was a friend of Rev. Bondʻs.
In 1848 a series of epidemics swept through the Kohala community, the first measles, then whooping cough, then influenza, stretching into the middle of 1849. It seemed the entire population was affected, and entire families passed away for want of anyone healthy enough to attend to the others. Rev. Bond wrote, "All Kohala was a hospital, and every inhabitant was a patient therein." Over fifty percent of the population of Kohala died in less than 12 months. Then, in December of 1849, Kalāhikiola Church blew down in a fierce Kona storm. It turned out that the carpenter had failed to peg the rafters together, causing the roof to collapse in the high wind, pushing out the walls.
Undaunted, Bond and his congregation raised $800 to build a new church made of stone, hand carried from gulches. Again, lumber for structural support was cut 10 miles away and hauled by hand to the site. As before, there were no horses or mules. The cut trees were up to f50 ft long. When ropes were attached, it took up to 100 native Hawaiians, men & women, 4 days to drag a tree to the site, often crossing ravines. Rev Bond worked every day supervising the effort.
Coral was dug from the ocean floor to make lime; natives entered the ocean in a canoe, dove to the depth of 25 ft, pried the coral loose with a rock, tied a rope around it, hauled it to the surface, and deposited it on the beach. It was then carried to the site on the shoulders of the people of the church. Hundreds of barrels of sand were brought by hand from Kawaihae and Pōlolu in small quantities, using such things as old shirts, an apron, or a gourd. Bond asked every person to help carry these materials to the site, school children included, which the congregation did willingly.
The lime made from fired coral, miseducating with water and sand, formed the mortar used to join the stones together.
The original roof covering was made of pili grass, sugar cane, and ti leaves, bundled and woven in a fashion described as being reserved for the structures of the Aliʻi in the days of old. At that time, there were only a few native Hawaiians who knew how to create the pattern.
The floor and ceiling were made of koa wood, sawn in the mountains of Waimea, and delivered to Kawaihae, where they were sailed to Mahukona, then off-loaded and carried on the shoulders of the men of the church to the construction site. the original bell had cracked from use; funds were raised so that a new bell could be purchased.
The church, completed in 1855, is essentially the same structure that remains today.
Reverend Bond quickly learned to speak Hawaiian and served as the churchʻs pastor for 43 years. All services in the church were conducted in the Hawaiian language until 1954. The Kalāhikiola Church was known as the "Hawaiian Church" in Kohala. Other churches came along later to serve the arriving immigrants.
In 1954 the Kalāhikiola Church merged with the Bethany Church (Japanese & Chinese), and the Kohala Union Church (Caucasian). In 1984 the Pilgrim Church (Filipino) joined.
An earthquake in 1973 caused some damage to the western wall that was repaired, mostly by the congregation. However, on Sunday morning October 15, 2006, at 7:07 am a 6.7 magnitude earthquake demolished large portions of the church (just 2 hrs before the normal Sunday service would have begun). The magnitude and duration of the quake wee too much for the old lime-putty mortar-joined lava rocks to withstand.
Upon seeing the destruction, Reverand George Baybrook cried, just as Reverend Bond had done amid the ruins of the wooden church in 1849.
Mostly insured, reconstruction began in December 2009 and was completed in February 2010. The church was rebuilt to modern standards. The 32-inch walls were replaced with concrete blocks covered in plaster, and with a flexible wooden wall, not the inside, also covered in plaster. The original stones from the church building now form a 550-foot wall around the church grounds.
The church measures 45 feet wide by 80 feet long, with a 16-foot wooden tower, added in 1858.
The church is on both the State and National Register of Historic Places as a component of the Bond District.
By Tom Morse; Editor, North Hawaii News