Preserved Mission Home Built in 1830s Offers Guided Tours
Hidden from the main road in Hanalei town by a tall grove of trees is one of Kauai’s oldest and most historic structures, the Waioli Mission
House. Built in the 1830s and now beautifully preserved, this old mission home remarkably remains in its original condition and is open to the public for tours free of charge.
Hanalei’s First Resident Missionaries
The Waioli Mission House had its origins when the 29-year-old Reverend William Patterson Alexander and his 24-year-old wife Mary Ann sailed into Kauai’s Waimea Bay in 1834 to begin a new life with their 17-month old son William DeWitt Alexander who was said to have gotten his “swinging gait” because he learned to walk during the long voyage at sea.
The Alexanders soon made the journey to Hanalei where they would establish the Waioli Mission, the first permanent mission station on Kauai’s north shore. The young family sailed in a double-hulled canoe along the Na Pali Coast at night and then camped on the shore of Hanalei Bay at the mouth of the Waioli River.
As the first “outsiders” to settle in the area, the Alexanders were welcomed by the natives who had built them a 50-foot by 20-foot grass-thatched dwelling that would serve as their home for nearly three years. The natives were said to have thronged to the shoreline to see these very curious strangers.
A former coworker, Mother Parker, wrote that William was “a tall Kentuckian with aquiline nose and very blue eyes,” while Mary Ann, who was from Pennsylvania, “was beautiful to look upon,” and “wore her hair in the curls of that day. She too had blue eyes, and perhaps she had not yet entirely lost her rosy cheeks of Harrisburg.”
Housekeeping Commences In A Grass-Thatched Dwelling
The young family moved into the grass-thatched dwelling. With materials very scarce, Mary Ann wrote that “We oiled paper and used that instead for some of our windows. We commenced housekeeping without furniture, no cooking stove, no cupboard for our dishes, only a pine dining table and a few chairs that we had brought with us from the states and an ironwood settee that a carpenter made for us, but we were content.”
In 1834 William constructed a cookhouse by using coral limestone blocks from the reef near the Waipa rivermouth in Hanalei Bay for the foundation and chimney. This cookhouse would later become part of the Waioli Mission House.
In 1835 the population of the north shore of Kauai was estimated to be about 3,100, and about 1,000 were attending Alexander’s mission gatherings “in the very shadow of the three mountains, Hihimanu, Namolokama and Mamalahoa, on whose precipitous sides waterfalls were almost constantly splashing out of the clouds or the deep blue of distance into the dense green of trees and ferns below.”
Waioli Mission House Construction Begins Using Native Ohia Logs
By November of 1836 Alexander had acquired logs of native ohia lehua trees from the nearby mountains and erected the frame of the Waioli Mission House. The two-story Western-style home was finished in 1837 including a front lanai and gable entrance.
By 1837 William Alexander was teaching 120 children for five days of the week, and Mrs. Alexander taught a school of girls in the subjects of “geography, arithmetic, writing, & sewing.”
The Alexander Family In Hawaii
The Alexanders eventually had nine children, some of whom went on to play prominent roles in Hawaii. Samuel Alexander was a co-founder of Alexander & Baldwin, one of Hawaii’s “Big Five” companies that dominated the sugar industry. Ann Alexander was the mother of the famous Hawaii architect Charles Dickey, and Ann’s daughter married pineapple magnate James Drummond Dole.
Help Arrives for the Alexanders – First Missionaries Visit Kalalau
In 1837 Edward and Lois Johnson arrived at Waioli to assist the Alexanders and direct the mission school. On the way to Waioli they stopped at Kalalau where they were said to have been the first missionaries to visit the well-populated valley.
Of her 1837 journey Lois wrote, “The Pali baffles all my powers of description. It indeed surpasses all that I have every seen in sublimity. It extends along the shore of the ocean for many miles and it almost seems as you sail along as if its towering peaks which seem to reach to the Heaven, sometimes appearing in broken, ragged mountains, sometimes shooting up in the form of sugar loaf, would lose their balance and overwhelm you beneath their ruins in the mighty deep. Here might the painter find scope for the boldest touch of his pencil & here the power gathers laurels for his brow.”
Waioli Mission House – The Wilcox Family and the Restoration
From 1846 to 1869 the Waioli Mission House was home to the Wilcox family including missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox and their eight sons. The Wilcox legacy in Hawaii is extensive (perhaps the subject of a future blog), and continues on today in the Hanalei region and throughout the Islands.
In the 1920s the Waioli Mission House was restored by three Wilcox descendants, Elsie Wilcox, Mabel Wilcox, and Lucy Etta Wilcox Sloggett. The three sisters hired prominent Honolulu architect Hart Wood who took great care to retain all of the home’s original features including rare furnishings and missionary artifacts.
In 1952 the Waioli Mission House was incorporated as a museum. The Wilcox sisters established an endowment to continue its preservation, and opened the site to the public for free guided tours. In 1973 the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours of the Waioli Mission House are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm.
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