Historic House Museums of Hawaii

The history of Hawaii is fascinating for visitors who can pry themselves away from the beaches and the warm waters of Hawaii.

From the first missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820, and their successors, the Victorian settlers, remnants of their important influences on these isolated islands, and their connections to Hawaiian life, are preserved in several Historic House Museums.

There are also Royal residences that are preserved -the homes where various members of the Hawaiian royalty lived -as they tried to keep their beloved islands independent of outside influences, while establishing their country on the world stage.

And there are also historic buildings preserved as museums. The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum is operated as an informative exhibit building within the former 1902 Superintendent’s residence.

A taste of those historic buildings is in this article. If you go to Hawaii on holiday or for work, a visit to these historic sites will enrich your appreciation of this paradise of the Pacific. Surprisingly, there is no central body charged with preserving these important sites.

We have to thank several worthy organizations – relying heavily on volunteers -for preserving this important history for us.

The Mission Houses Museum, Honolulu, Oahu

The buildings at the Mission Houses Museum date from as early as the 1820’s, and were restored in 1996 to their earlier appearance. A cluster of buildings evoking a much simpler time, they are built of contrasting materials: frame and coral blocks.

The Frame House, seen at left in the photograph above, dates from c1821. It was pre-cut in New England and shipped around Cape Horn to be assembled in Hawaii by the missionaries.

You can explore the interiors of the buildings at the Museum with a guide, see the furnished rooms and learn about the life of the earliest European settlers to these remote islands.

The museum houses many original artifacts – from clothing to furniture, and personal items as sewing kits, dolls, journals and early watercolours.

A visit to this Museum in downtown Honolulu, close to Iolani Palace and other important historic buildings, is recommended to appreciate the contributions of the early missionaries to Hawaii’s history.

The Chamberlain House at the Mission Houses Museum dates from c1831. It is built of coral blocks that were cut from a reef just offshore Honolulu Harbour.

On June 1, 1830, Levi Chamberlain recorded the following entry in his journal:

“Walked down to the sea where the natives were cutting the coral stone for my building. The coral forms the surface of the whole flats; it is in thicknesses from three to four inches to about twelve inches; the natives cut it the right width and pry it up with levers. The work of getting it resembles cutting up the surface of a pond frozen over.”

Chamberlain House is, not surprisingly, Georgian in design. Many Colonial buildings from this time period, whether in Canada, the United States (where Georgian is known as ‘Federal’) or in Hawaii, are similar in massing and form.

The Printing office at the Museum houses a reproduction Ramage Press, similar to the one brought by ship around Cape Horn from Boston. As early as 1822 the original press was used to print materials in the Hawaiian language and local demand was great for the output of the press, which was instrumental in promoting Hawaiian literacy.

Looking along the front of the coral-block bedroom annex, which now houses the Printing Office, towards the simple, pre-fabricated Frame House, which dates from 1821, and still stands in its original location.

The Mission Houses Museum is owned and maintained by the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, whose members are direct descendants of the Mikanele (the Hawaiian’s name for the missionaries) who arrived in Hawaii between 1820 and 1863.

For more information about the Mission Houses Museum, please see:


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