OLDEST PACIFIC LIGHTHOUSE
The Lahaina Lighthouse stands as a beacon at the edge of Lahaina Harbor, guiding vessels to the landing for almost two centuries. In old Hawai‘i, its site at Keawaiki, which means “the small passage,” referring to a narrow break through coral reef leading to protected anchorage, held an observatory platform for oracles to read celestial bodies in the night sky.
In 1840, Kamehameha III commissioned a nine-foot tall, box-like wooden tower to be built as a navigational aid for ships entering Lahaina’s roadstead. At the top was a lamp that was lit with whale oil and tended by a Native Hawaiian caretaker. When it was lit on November 4, 1840, it was the first lighted navigation tower in the Hawaiian Islands, predating any lighthouse on the U.S. Pacific Coast.
As shipping traffic increased, so did the tower’s height, stretching to 26 feet. Improvements were made and on November 8, 1866, the tower with a storehouse featured stairs leading to the light room and keeper’s sleeping room with a lamp on top, which burned kerosene.
Pioneer Mill Co. sugar plantation owners, James Campbell and Harry Turton, leased the tower’s storehouse each year until 1871 when the lease was secured by Colonel L.S. Spalding and the West Maui Sugar Association. When Hawai‘i was annexed by the United States, the harbormaster assumed responsibility for the lighthouse, and the structure remained in place during political transitions from provisional government to the republic.
Lahaina’s status as an important shipping port continued and in 1905, a new lighthouse was constructed by the U.S. Lighthouse Board. This wooden pyramid reached 55 feet in height and was equipped with a Fresnel lens. The new light served the roadstead well for the next decade, during which plans were made to automate many of the lighthouses in the islands. Dedicated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1916, the restructured Lahaina Lighthouse was encased with concrete and its light was automated. In 1937, it was powered by electricity and today, power comes from the sun. The signal light flashes red every 7.5 seconds.
Lahaina Restoration Foundation signed a 30-year lease agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard and assumed responsibility for maintenance of the site.
“Anythin’ for a quiet life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse.”
– Charles Dickens
“The lighthouse and the lightship appeal to the interests and better instinct of man because they are symbolic of never ceasing watchfulness, of steadfast endurance in every exposure, of widespread helpfulness.”
– George R. Putnam,
First Commissioner of the U.S.
Lighthouse Service (1910-1935)