Here stands King Kamehameha the Great, right arm outstretched, left arm holding a spear, as if guarding the seniors who have turned a century-old, New England–style courthouse into an airy civic center. It’s worth a stop just to meet the town elders, who are quick to point out the local sights, hand you a free "Guide to Historic North Kohala," and give you a brief tour of the former courthouse, whose walls are covered with the faces of innocent-looking local boys killed in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

But the statue is the main attraction. There’s one just like it in Honolulu, across the street from Iolani Palace, but this is the original: an 8-foot, 6-inch bronze by Thomas R. Gould, a Boston sculptor. Cast in Europe in 1880, it was lost at sea on its way to Hawaii. After a sea captain recovered the statue, it was placed here, near Kamehameha’s Kohala birthplace, in 1912. Kamehameha is believed to have been born in 1758 under Halley’s Comet and became ruler of Hawaii in 1810. He died in Kailua-Kona in 1819, but his burial site remains a mystery.