Monday, May 14, 2012

Laniākea – Home of Missionaries Asa and Lucy Thurston

Reverend Asa and Lucy Thurston were in the first company of American Christian Missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving in Kailua-Kona on the Thaddeus in 1820.

They made their home in Kailua Village, in a home the Hawaiians named Laniākea.  Thurston received Laniākea, a 5.26 acre homestead parcel as a gift from Governor Kuakini.

As noted by Rev. Sereno Edwards Bishop, in his book “Reminiscences Of Old Hawaii” (1916:) “In the early (1830s,) Kailua was a large native village, of about 4,000 inhabitants rather closely packed along one hundred rods of shore, and averaging twenty rods inland.”

“It had been the chief residence of King Kamehameha, who in 1819 died there in a rudely built stone house whose walls are probably still standing on the west shore of the little bay. Nearby stood a better stone house occupied by the doughty Governor Kuakini.”

“All other buildings in Kailua were thatched, until Rev. Artemas Bishop built his two-story stone dwelling in 1831 and Rev. Asa Thurston in 1833 built his wooden two-story house at Laniakea, a quarter of a mile inland.”

“Most of the native huts were thatched with the stiff pili grass. The better ones were thatched with lau-hala (pandanus leaf) or with la-i.”

The following are excerpts from letters Lucy Thurston during her time in Hawaii, from "Life and Times of Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston" (1882;) her own words best describe the property (including its cave and pond:)

“Back of the village on that arid slope, a third of a mile from the shore, was an unoccupied, eligible site for a house and grounds. There we set about making such a home as circumstances would allow, and as the double responsibilities required, of molding heathen society, and of forming the characters of our children.

“Five acres were enclosed with a stone wall three feet wide and six feet high, with simply the front gate for entrance. A large thatched house was erected. Space was allowed for a yard twenty-five feet in breadth. Two close partition walls were built six feet high, running from the outer wall each side of the front gate, close up against the side of the house, each side of the front door.

“At the back side of the house is a hall which leads both from the dining room and study to a door, the only entrance into a retired yard of three acres. There stands another thatched house, built after the custom of the country. The frame is tied together with the very strong bark of a certain tree.

“Then from the ridge-pole to the ground, the frame is entirely covered with long slender poles, tied within a few inches of each other, over which the long lauhala leaves are laid, leaving the two ends to hang down on the outside.

“That house is the home of our children. There is our family sitting room, eighteen feet square, and there are our sleeping apartments. And inasmuch as I often wish to invite my native friends to that sitting room, we enclosed the further bed room in a yard sixty feet square, with a wall six feet high, coming up close to the house on both sides.

“In our kitchen yard, directly opposite and within a few feet of each other, are the two mouths of a large cave of volcanic formation.

“The larger opening gives us the novelty of a subterraneous walk one-fourth of a mile toward the sea, where we reach a pond of brackish water. Some of the rooms of this cave are quite spacious. The natives made it a place of concealment in times of war.

“The smaller mouth of the cave leads into a low cave which extends three miles up the mountain, where there is an opening, and when obliged to hide in the lower cave, the natives stole through the upper one to procure their food.

“The name of the cave is Laniakea, signifying the broad heavens. As it is enclosed in our premises, the natives were quick to give the name to our establishment, so that it has become universally known as Laniakea.

“Thatched houses are not durable, therefore, in the course of years, we had a succession of dwellings, but this was the general arrangement. In the 12th year of the Mission, a two-storied wooden house was erected in the children's yard, and the wall for their special enclosure removed, as the times no longer required such an accommodation.”

Hawaii Register of Historic Places, September 24, 2005 notes:
Laniākea: the Asa and Lucy Thurston House site is significant for its associations with Asa and Lucy Thurston and their profound involvement with the Protestant Missionary movement in Hawaii from 1820 to 1861.

With the permission of Liholiho (Kamehameha II), the missionaries built a grass house for worship in 1823 and, later, a large thatched meeting house.

Missionary Asa Thurston directed the construction of the present Mokuʻaikaua Church, then the largest building in Kailua. Its massive size indicates the large Hawaiian population living in or near Kailua at that time.

The image shows my Grandparents and my Mother in the Laniākea house ruins (in 1928) – (Great grandson and Great-great grand-daughter of Hiram Bingham, leader of missionaries to Hawai‘i, who came to Hawai‘i with Asa Thurston)

I have also added additional images of Laniākea in a folder of like name in the Photos section.  Included are two landscape scenes drawn by their daughter Persis Goodale Thurston Taylor, showing Kailua-Kona at 1836 (view up the hill noting Laniākea and a view down the hill to Kailua from Laniākea.)


  1. Hello! This is a great photograph.I was looking on the net for a photo of Persis' etching of the site and found your entry. You know there is a Laniakea Historical Society, which I am involved with, whose reason to be is the preserving of this historic site. I would love your permission to copy the photo, and maybe the photo of the etching too. Can't find the Photos file though.
    Nice article, too. I am working on a book of Lucy's letters. Aloha,
    Patricia Godfrey

  2. Additional photos are on my Facebook page in an album labeled Laniakea: