Dedication of Mokuaikaua Church’s Memorial Plaque and Arch
In 1910, the Evangelical Association of the Territory of Hawaii met in Kailua to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the coming of the first American Congregational missionaries to Hawaii in 1820. In honor of this occasion, Mokuaikaua Church, oldest Congregational Church in the islands, was repaired and a stone arch was built to commemorate the anniversary. The minister in charge of the program committee was the Rev. Albert S. Baker, then resident minister at Kona Central Union Church. An avid amateur photographer, it may be this photo was taken by Baker himself on the morning of the dedication.
According to Commissioned to Hawaii, The Life of Albert S. Baker, written by Baker’s granddaughter, Ruth C. Loucks, the Rev. Baker had his hands full organizing this gala affair. He organized committees, gathered up donations of money and food, and acted as Chief Trouble Shooter at the actual multi-day affair. At the end of it, he was exhausted but exhilarated that everything had gone so well.
“Bert (Baker) had been given permission to use the grounds and pavilion at Hulihe`e Palace across the street from the church. Four tents were set up on the grounds. Two steamer loads of people came for the meetings, and it took time to get everyone settled. Bert gave the welcoming address at the opening and tended door at the benefit concert. In the night he had to cope with a disturbance made by a group of noisy drunks, and evict some fruit sellers who tried to set up shop in the church grounds on Sunday morning.”
“The chief event was the anniversary celebration. A memorial tablet set in the arch was unveiled by Miss Ethel Paris, and there was a special lunch at the Palace dining room. The tablet was placed on an old adz-smoothed stone that had once been part of a heiau.” (pages 77 and 78)
Indeed, when Governor Kuakini organized Mokuaikaua Church’s construction in 1837, the church was built using stone said to be taken from Liholiho’s heiau which lay on the current grounds of the Kona Inn. A good look at the church’s corners today will reveal some beautiful rectangular shaped stones known to have come from the time of high chief Umi. Perhaps Kailua’s first resident missionaries, the Rev. Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy, had no descendents living in Kona in 1910 to unveil the plaque.
Baker arrived in Kona in 1904 accompanied by his mother and threw himself into setting up Sunday schools, building new churches, and reaching out to Kona’s truly multi-cultural community to re-grow his church’s congregation. A graduate of Harvard Medical School and the Yale School of Divinity, Baker was in many ways a student all his life. He spent fifteen happy years exploring the entire island; hiking to remote petroglyph fields, visiting volcanic eruptions at Kilauea, and even riding a mule to Waimanu Valley. He built a home across the street from the church in the center of Kona called Konawaena. On his first Christmas in Kona, his granddaughter said…..
“The first Christmas in Hawaii was a happy experience for the Bakers, in spite of missing their usual large family gatherings in Massachusetts. Several neighbors came to call and brought small gifts of food. They were almost overwhelmed when Mr. Paris sent a wagon with a turkey, large rooster with four hens, a bunch of bananas, a bucket of oranges, a bag of sweet potatoes, and taro. Then Mother Greenwell (Mrs. H.N. Greenwell) followed by sending a turkey, some butter, mincemeat, and figs.” (page 41)
Miss Ethel Paris was the granddaughter of the Rev. John D. Paris, one of Kona’s earliest missionaries. Although the Rev. Paris is usually associated with Kahikolu Church, which overlooks Napoopoo and Kealakekua Bay, and Lanakila Church in Kainaliu, for many years he was in charge of Mokuaikaua as well. Old Kona residents may remember seeing Miss Paris driving along Mamalahoa in Kona mauka in the 1950s and 1960s in her old Army jeep. She often wore a lauhala hat and faded blue palaka shirt, an alert blue heeler riding beside her in the passenger seat. Miss Paris spent her retirement years in Kona, but she dedicated her life to social work among Hawaii’s children, especially children born at Kalaupapa and brought to Honolulu for safekeeping and an education.
With two steamer loads of attendees arriving in Kailua, it may be that many people in this photograph are from Oahu and the other neighbor islands. Hats and white dresses were the fashion statement of the day for ladies, and the men sweltered in their Sunday suits. The Rev. Baker is not to be seen, nor is Miss Paris.
Aloha no, e Kona.
by Maile Melrose