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 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.