Central Union Church traces its roots back to 1833 with the establishment of the Seamen's Bethel in the Port of Honolulu. Situated on the waterfront, it was started by the American Seamen's Friend Society to minister to English-speaking sailors from whaling and trading ships. The worship services attracted a number of English-speaking townspeople who in 1837 organized themselves as Oahu Bethel Church.

As Oahu Bethel's numbers grew, and ship calls increased, need for a separate church became evident. In 1852 some Oahu Bethel members left to form what was to become Fort Street Church. Oahu Bethel continued to conduct services, later renaming itself Bethel Union Church.

In 1886 a raging waterfront fire destroyed the Seamen's Bethel, which was still Bethel Union's home. The idea surfaced of combining Bethel Union, now without a home, with the well-established Fort Street Church. In 1887 a formal merger created Central Union Church, with 337 members.

In 1892 Central Union Church moved into a splendid new "blue-stone" (volcanic basalt) building across from Washington Place, Queen Liliuokalani's residence, which is now the governor's residence. Within 15 years, however, rapid growth plus noise and ventilation problems created pressures to move.

In 1920, Central Union's then-pastor, Dr. Albert Palmer, chose a desirable 8.3-acre site at Punahou and Beretania streets. The site was "Woodlawn," for years the residence and dairy farm of prominent businessman B.F. Dillingham and his family. Mrs. Emma Louise Dillingham, by then a widow, agreed to sell - she had been a member since Bethel Union days. In 1922, the cornerstone was laid, and the present sanctuary, designed in traditional New England style, was completed in 1924.


Our church has a substantial archive of historical documents. These materials are continuously generated by committees of the church (minutes, agenda, reports), by the officers (trustees, council), and by the ministers (sermons). We have membership records (baptism, marriages, deaths, date of church membership), which are especially useful to those conducting genealogical research. Blueprints of church buildings as well as photos of church and some individuals are stored, Bound church publications (1887 to date), some earlier materials from antecedent churches (Seamen's Bethel and Fort Street Church).

The church archives are open by appointment only. Contact our church historians, Suzanne Case and Rosemary Eberhardt. For further information call the church at (808) 941-0957 or email cuc@centralunionchurch.org.


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