Don’t Overlook the Honolulu Mission Houses

In Downtown Honolulu, a small cluster of houses holds some of Hawaii’s most significant history. Unfortunately, it often is overlooked by visitors whose attention in the area tends to focus on Iolani Palace, Kawaiahao Church, the Kamehameha statue, the state capitol and Chinatown.

The Mission Houses, which were the original headquarters of the Sandwich Islands Mission, are the oldest structures in Honolulu and provide a link to an era of enormous cultural change in the islands. Missionaries from New England began to arrive in Hawaii in 1820 determined to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity.

King Kamehameha II viewed the missionaries with mistrust. He imposed a one-year limit to their stay and confined them to this then-barren place between Waikiki and Downtown in which to live. They managed to construct only a few grass huts there, which afforded them little shelter and the dry earth made farming on a large scale impossible.

The Frame House on the grounds was shipped around Cape Horn from Boston in 1820 and is the oldest wood house in Hawaii. The Chamberlain House, built of coral blocks in 1831, was both a family home and storehouse for mission supplies. The third building, also of coral blocks, was completed in 1841. Today, it functions as the Printing Office. A working replica of the first printing press to be brought to Hawaii is demonstrated there on a regular basis.

The missionaries are remembered in two lights. They are respected for having created an alphabet that preserved the Hawaiian language, which had hitherto been spoken and sung only. But it also can be said that their spreading of Christianity contributed to the deterioration of the Hawaiian culture.

Few of the original furnishings have survived, although two large desks from the 1830s (sent to Honolulu from Boston) and a rocking chair still exist. Two hurricane lamps from New England, almost 250 years old, can also be seen.

Tours are available at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Groups of more than six should call (808) 531-0481 for reservations.

If you like, we’ll arrange to include a tour in your Hawaii vacation plans. Pick an agent from our Web site home page (, or call 1-800-843-8771.