When the first missionaries arrived in Lahaina in 1823, they stressed to the ali‘i of Hawai‘i the importance of education and literacy for their people, and a seed was planted. By 1831, Lahainaluna Seminary was established, becoming the first secondary school west of the Rockies. Lahainaluna survives today as Lahaina’s public high school. On its campus is Hale Pa‘i, the House of Printing.
School records tell us that in 1834, an old Ramage Press was shipped from Honolulu and installed on campus in a small thatched-roof hut. Students were taught how to set type, operate the press, create copper engravings and bind books. Textbooks and teaching aids were created and continually improved. The original press printed the first newspaper published west of the Rocky Mountains on February 14, 1834. It was a four-page weekly called “Ka Lama Hawaii.”
In 1837, construction began on a new building, which would provide a permanent home for the school’s press. Fieldstone was gathered from the surrounding hillsides, timbers were cut from forests on the opposite side of the island and laboriously hauled to the site. Lime for mortar was made down at the shoreline by burning coral that had been culled from offshore reefs. The result was a strong, pitched-roof, two- room house that served the school for more than a century.
In the Printing House, seminary scholars composed a classic work of ancient Hawaiian history and traditions entitled “Moolelo Hawaii.” David Malo, one of the seminary’s first students and Native Hawaiian scholars, contributed to the historical part of the book and is listed as its author. An original 1838 publication is on display in today’s museum. Students printed the Hawaiian Kingdom’s first paper currency, examples of which are also displayed.
By the late 1960s, the Printing House had fallen into such serious disrepair that it was no longer used and declared unsafe for occupancy. Because of its long association with Lahainaluna High School, a citizen’s movement lobbied to restore Hale Pa‘i and the building restoration became one of the earliest Lahaina Restoration Foundation projects. After much fundraising and lobbying at the state level, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation was awarded the first grant in State of Hawai‘i history for the restoration of a state-owned building. The project was completed in 1983, and Hale Pa‘i now serves as a printing museum and archive center.