Friday, November 16, 2012

Washington Place ~ Needs your help!

Yours Truly, Mom and Husband at Washington Place
built for my 4x great aunt, Mary (Jones) Dominis

Most Americans have never heard of Washington Place.  It is a historic house in Honolulu built by Captain John Dominis for his Boston born wife in the 1840s.  At a time when most people were living in thatched huts, this enormous white mansion became a showplace.  No one knows why Capt. Dominis built such an impressive home, but within a short time of its construction he died at sea in 1846. His widow was reduced to taking in boarders to help cover the expenses of running such a big household.

Mary’s boarders were mostly Americans.  One of her first boarders was Anthony Ten Eyck, the American Commissioner to the islands.  Ten Eyck nicknamed the house “Washington Place” in a letter dated 22 February 1848, on an anniversary of George Washington’s birthday.  The name stuck when King Kamehameha III liked the name and wrote a royal decree retaining the name “in all time coming”.

Mary Lambert Jones was born in Boston on 3 August 1803.  She married Captain John Dominis in Boston on 9 October 1824.  He was a native of Trieste, Italy, which is now in Slovenia.  Mary was the sister of my 4x great grandmother, Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger.  When she was building the house in Hawaii, she enlisted the aid of her brother-in-law, Enoch Howes Snelling, to send the windows and doors from Boston.  Enoch, a glazier in Boston’s North End, was married to another sister, Sarah Dargue Jones.

The glass in the windows and doors of Washington Place
were sent from Boston by Enoch H. Snelling, husband of my 4x great aunt

For some unknown reason, the Dominises removed from Boston to Schenectady, New York where their three children were born.  Mary lived with the family of Reverend Christopher Yates while Captain Dominis went on many voyages to the Pacific.

 In 1837 they sailed on board the bark Jones to Honolulu, leaving two young daughters, Mary, age 12, and Frances, age 8, at school in Schenectady.  They brought their little son, John Owen Dominis, age 5, with them to Honolulu.   The year after they left Mary died in Schenectady, and in 1842 Francis also died.  Mary Dominis traveled back to Boston and New York in 1843, but her daughters were already laid to rest in the Yates family plot at the Vale Cemetery, Schenectady.  It is hard to imagine her loss.

But Mary returned to live in Honolulu, and raised her son there.  John Owen Dominis became the governor of Oahu and Maui.  He married Lydia Kamekeha Paki in 1862, the daughter of an ali’i family.  She became Princess Liliuokalani and later the last Queen of Hawaii.  After the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown, she made Washington Place her permanent home. Liliuokalani lived there for the rest of her life, and died in her bedroom there on 11 November 1917.  She had lived there for 55 years.

A portrait of Queen Liliuokalani graces the dining room inside Washington Place

Washington Place was bought from the Queen’s estate by the legislature of Hawaii in 1921.  It became the governor’s mansion for the territorial and state governors of Hawaii until 2002 when a new governor’s mansion was built.  It is now a historic house museum, and the site of official events for the state of Hawaii, such as parties, press conferences, and official visits from heads of states. Tours are free, and available by appointment.

Although Washington Place is owned by the state of Hawaii, the funds for maintenance and upkeep are raised by the private Washington Place Foundation.  The house is now 171 years old, and the tropical climate has caused several maintenance problems which will be expensive to repair.  With state cutbacks and economic measures being what they are now, the house museum is seeking additional donations towards major structural repairs.  To make a donation please make a check payable to:

The Washington Place Foundation
PO Box 873
Honolulu, HI 96808

For more information on Washington Place:

Washington Place, A First Lady's Story,  by  Jean Hayashi Ariyoshi,  Honolulu, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2004

Washington Place Foundation website

A previous blog post about Washington Place 

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful home. I really hope that they will be able to raise the funds to maintain the house and property.