Hilo's Shipman House B&B

Jack London Wuz Here, Why You Should Be Too

Hilo's Shipman House B&B

In August, 1907, a weathered Jack London showed up on the doorstep of Hilo's Shipman House with a letter of referral from a prominent Honolulu newspaper publisher. London and his wife stayed for 5 weeks while his sailing vessel, The Snark, was being repaired. Twenty-three years later Hollywood's "first" director, Cecile B. DeMille, took up residence here while filming scenes in the neighboring gulch. Today, the Shipman House Bed & Breakfast might be one of the most serenely pleasant inns in all of Hawaii.

One arrives at the stately Victorian mansion after crossing a small metal bridge that connects Reed's Island to downtown Hilo—a distance of only a few blocks. (A little digging revealed that the 26-acre Reed's Island was bought from Kamehameha IV in 1861 for $200—about the same price as an evening's stay at the inn.) Walk up the steps and past the verdant garden that bears most of the succulent fruit served each morning at breakfast. Strawberry papaya, banana, guava... the list goes on. Take a gander at the fragrant orchids that spot the property—and ask the proprietors which one is a clipping of the very first orchid to arrive in the Kingdom of Hawai'i—brought to the islands by a Shipman daughter, Caroline Robinson.

Inside, you're immediately struck with the grand staircase, wide sweeping hallways, huge doorways and no shortage of koa furniture—most of which pre-dates Henry Livingston's construction of the house in 1899. (Owner Barbara Anderson can show you an original couch made by her great-great-grandfather in 1855.

"This is the only place in Hawaii that you can stay in a private home, and experience true 'Old Hawai'i' from the Monarchy days," said Anderson, who's great-grandfather, a missionary-turned-cattle rancher, bought the home in 1901. Anderson, who was born at the inn, moved to Niu Valley in Honolulu for kindergarten, "back when Hawaii Kai, Kuli'ou'ou and all of Waialae Iki were all pig farms," she added. After college and marriage on the mainland, Anderson (with husband Gary in tow) moved back to Hilo in order to buy the inn from family who were poised to sell the property. The pair planted dozens of fruit trees, while Gary continued with his computer consulting business remotely.

Speaking with Anderson, one thing becomes very clear: Staying at a place with such ties to the community and history, as well as a huge knowledge of the surrounding area, is one valuable perk of staying at the Shipman House.

An insider's tip: Guests who plan their stay around a Thursday evening  will be treated to a local hula show on the Shipman veranda, by the locally famed "Thursday Night Porch Gang". The make-shift "halau", which is comprised of local residents and former guests of the inn who have moved to Hilo, perform small hula shows around town during festivals like Merrie Monarch.

"It's very impromptu," said Anderson. "And guests who want to learn are welcome to join the group in the back row. They can come away with learning a very basic hula."

Anderson is eager to point out the wide array of visitors that pass through the breezy halls of Shipman House.

"One recent morning we had guests from Asia, Canada, Vienna and Vermont seated around the breakfast table. It's very eclectic, but there's usually one common denominator: All our guests are interested in really experiencing Hawai'i. People understand that we have such great knowledge of all the things nearby to do. The flowing lava, the National Park, Mauna Kea visitor's center, many waterfalls, the Hawaii Botanical Tropical Garden and Queen Lili'uokalani's Gardens are all within 45 minutes from our door. And we're happy to share some hidden spots as well."

Shipman House Bed & Breakfast has 5 rooms total; three in the main house, and two (which can be joined) in a separate cottage.
Prices range from $209 to $249 per night.
Anderson suggests the inn isn't the ideal place for young children, considering all the antiques throughout the home, and the deep gulch to the rear of the property.

Visit www.ShipmanHouse.com or www.hilo-hawaii.com for more information.

Take a gander at the fragrant orchids that are clipped from the very first orchid to arrive in the Kingdom of Hawai'i.