HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Nature and Culture


Nature and Culture

          It’s the oldest wood-frame building on the island.  Many of its ohia posts and beams, erected in 1839, are still holding it up; and you can still walk on its wide koa floorboards.  What’s different, now, is what’s on top (originally thatch, but by mid-century wood shingles) and what’s inside: a “house museum.”

          It was built by and for David and Sarah Lyman, the first New England missionaries to settle in Hilo.  Progressive educators, they founded two schools, but were also eager to teach local kids about the world beyond Hawaii.  So they asked friends, visitors and sailors to send them mineral rocks, seashells, and man-made artifacts from foreign lands.

          In 1932, the Lyman’s youngest daughter (then in her 80s) saved the house from demolition, and it was turned into a museum.  In 1972 a modern museum building was erected next door, to showcase what had become an enormous and eclectic collection.

          Today, the Lyman Museum is the Big Island’s only natural-history museum, with a permanent display of minerals and shells, plus dioramas and models explaining Hawaii’s oceanic and terrestrial climate zones.  It’s the island’s only cultural museum too, featuring early Hawaiian artifacts, Chinese fine arts, everyday objects from all of the local immigrant cultures, and tours of the original Mission House.

          Currently, there is also a reproduction of an early 20th century Korean homestead; a stunning half-hour film about Kilauea’s eruptions that overran Kalapana in the 1990s; and through April – in celebration of the museum’s 75th anniversary – a display of some odd but memorable objects that have been in storage for years.


The museum ( is at 276 Haili St., just mauka of downtown Hilo, and is open Mon-Sat from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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