LDS Pulehu Chapel
Up on the slopes toward Haleakala, the mythical, dormant volcano on Maui's east side, lies an old chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is quite possibly the oldest LDS chapel in existence since it was built in 1851, right around the time the Mormon pioneers were settling in the Salt Lake Valley. But this quaint building is little known, even in the Church, and rarely seen by those who have heard of it. It is so mysterious that it doesn't even have an address, nor is it mentioned at the Church's official website. The nearest meetinghouse in current use is in Pukalani. It appears to have a Yahoo! Local listing that merely mentions it as being part of the town of Kula, and appears to be entirely unrecognized by Google.
An old picture from the 1880's and one from 2001 can be found at the Hawaii Honolulu Mission Alummni website:
Little can be found about how the building came to be but it is said at the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation website that, "The first LDS baptisms [in Hawaii] occurred at the Pulehu chapel . . . from where many were called to settle a colony in the Palawai Basin on Lanai."
George Q. Cannon, a long-time counselor in the First Presidency, is said to have preached there when he was on a mission in the Hawaiian Islands as a young man. At one time he spoke to a crowd of 100 people and 97 of them were baptized. According to the book David O. McKay: Around the World - An Apostolic Mission, "The tradition is that Brother Cannon was not standing on the ground on this occasion, but was in the air and that a great light shone about him." From the best I can tell, the chapel may not have been there at this time but the preaching occurred at the spot where the chapel was later built.
This same book mentions a later experience shared by David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who visited Maui on a world tour in 1921, with Hugh J. Cannon as his traveling companion:
While visiting Maui, [Hugh J. Cannon] expressed a desire to visit the spot where his father, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith had a very spiritual experience many years before. The two missionaries visited that sacred spot accompanied by David Keola Kailimai, E. Wesley Smith, and Samuel Hurst. Brother McKay suggested they have a prayer. They found an old pepper tree to shade them from the hot sun, and Brother McKay was voice for the prayer.
Brother Cannon's personal journal includes this entry dated February 8, 1921: "I felt that I was treading on holy ground, that the veil between me and my father was very thin; indeed, I felt that there was no intervening veil. The brethren partook of the same feeling. We had prayers under a tree back of the building, and Brother Keola Kailimai says that while we prayed he saw two men shaking hands. He was surprised when he opened his eyes to see me standing with my hands at my side. I do not know the significance of what he saw, but I do know that Father and President Joseph F. Smith were there."
In telling of the experience the following year, Brother McKay said he told Brother Kailimai, "I do not understand the significance of your vision, but I do know the veil between us and those former missionaries was very thin. . . . Brother Hugh J. Cannon who was by my side, with tears rolling down his cheeks, said, 'Brother McKay, there was no veil.'"
I have also found this link to a speech given by one of my former BYU-Hawaii teachers who tells about the history of the church in Hawaii and mentions the work at Pulehu.
I first found out about this structure a while after taking a trip to Maui in June 2005. I had come across a book at The Bookport in Fountain Valley that told of the world tour President David O. McKay took in 1921 with Hugh J. Cannon (a son of George Q. Cannon). After reading about their stop on Maui and visit to this chapel I was determined to find it if I ever went back.
In June of 2007 I was able to return to Maui. In addition to attending the Maui Film Festival and meeting up in person for the first time with the editor of Hawaiian Style Magazine (which I proofread for) as well as enjoying the island paradise that Maui is I put finding the Pulehu Chapel near the top of my priority list.
One of the driving maps I had showed a Pulehu Rd. so I figured that was the road that would obviously lead me to the old building (assuming it was still standing since I wasn't even sure if it was still around or if maybe it was around but had crumbled into a pile of firewood). On Sunday, the day before I left Maui, I went to sacrament meeting at the singles branch that meets on the island then headed out to my car, ready to drive up the Pulehu Rd. But before I drove away I felt like I should go back for Sunday School so I did and while I was there a Polynesian guy made a comment about having recently taken a couple of his friends to see the chapel and said they had stayed there taking pictures for about two hours. Once he made this comment I figured I should ask him how to get there. He gave me directions and it turns out that the Pulehu Road had nothing to do with it. It took a while to get there but I finally arrived. At one point the directions I had been given stopped working (might have been my fault). I knew I was close but that I might need to ask for directions so I stopped at a little convenience store/gas station called the Ching Store and asked if they knew where it was. There was a lot of discussion between the three generations of this Chinese family. They didn't know exactly what place I was talking about but the grandmother gave me directions to a place she thought might be the right place. It turned out she was right and it was only about a mile away. Interesting thing about this Ching Store is that the Chevron gas they sell is actually cheaper than the gas down in the more populated parts of Maui. You would think that gas in such a remote place would be more expensive but in this case it's not so this might be a good place to fill your tank.
My first thought on seeing the Pulehu Chapel was that it was definitely old but in startlingly good condition considering it is 41 years older than even the Salt Lake Temple, and it still has some viability as a meetingplace. It must've received a paint job since 2001 since it is now white with green trim instead of brown so somebody is caring for it. It also has overhead telephone wires connected to it though I don't recall having seen a phone inside and a nice lawn of green grass not seen in the 2001 photo.
To find the chapel you have to know where Highway 37 is. It is also known as the Haleakala Highway. It is prominent enough on the island that it should be found easily and is basically behind the Kahului airport. When you start up the 37 (yes, you will be going up most of the way) make sure you stay on the 37. Don't turn off on to Highway 377. Stay on the 37 and you will eventually see the Kula Ace Hardware store. Turn left at that street (it's called Ke St.), then make an immediate right onto L Kula Rd., then turn left almost immediately into the parking lot. It is the little white structure you can see just to the right of the red star on this Yahoo satellite photo:
When you turn on to Lower Kula Road there is an old fingerboard sign pointing the building out as a historical site:
The chapel's parking lot is very nicely kept. It is smooth, with well-marked, wide spots, which stood in stark contrast to the parking lot at the hotel I was staying at for the week which was bumpy, pockmarked, rough, with vaguely painted and very narrow parking spaces. The whole property is surrounded by a fence with signs denoting it as private property. I thought at first that I would only be able to take photos from outside the fence but found a gate that was unlocked so I walked in and explored the grounds.
Also on the lot are a small house and a storage shed with mens and womens restrooms:
I don't know who, if anybody, lives in the house. There were no signs of life in it during my visit but a bath towel appeared to have been recently hung on its staircase banister.
When you walk in the chapel there is a guestbook to sign. You can find my name under the date 6/17/07. A handful of people had been there earlier in the day before I arrived including the girl who let me borrow her scriptures when I was in Sunday School at the Kihei 2nd Branch.
UPDATE: Upon doing further research it seems that it is a pair of sister missionaries that live in the house on this lot.
If you have any more information to add or if my directions help you successfully find the Pulehu Chapel, please feel free to e-mail me at ChristianZ@netscape.net. If your e-mail has a good story I might post it here so let me know if that's okay when you write.
UPDATE: Here is a photo sent to me by Russell Cannon, a descendent of George Q. Cannon: