Part of Our Lahaina Series – Part 2 Of 4
The first lighthouse in Hawai`i was assembled at 1840 at Lahaina in reaching the port, to assist the ships. The light was built on a part of waterfront known as Keawaiki which means literally”the small passage,” speaking to a narrow break throughout the coral reef that resulted in a protected anchorage.
The only existing record of the original lighthouse is a letter written from John Kapena of Lahaina to Paulo Kanoa at Honolulu. From the letter, Kapena explains the initial light as a”tall looking box-like arrangement, about eight feet high and one foot wide, so was all sides; built on a suitable position facing the landing.” It was positioned so the landing was indicated for”those ships, boats, and canoes that could come in port at night; because there were a significant number of ships wrecked by the waves.”
In 1866, a third lighthouse was put to operation in Lahaina. Little information exists regarding the light to serve the port, but a few details are given in the following excerpt in the Gazette announcing the establishment of the light.
The old Light House at this interface has been hauled down, and a new one erected on the old website, slightly enlarged. The house was 19 feet by 25 feet, the new one is 25 feet by 30 feet, and a tower constructed on top, including a light room and a sleeping room for the light-keeper. The lamps are changed to burn kerosene oil, instead of whale oil.
A group of businessmen established a government and overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. The U.S. government formally annexed Hawai`i on July 7, 1898, but it would not be until 1904 that the government took control of their aids to navigation at the islands.
Captain David Taylor, who served as harbormaster in Lahaina, was given the added responsibility of caring for the mild in 1893, following the previous keeper refused to have the oath to support the provincial government. Several years later, George H. Dunn, a representative for its Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company and Wilder’s Steamship Company, substituted Captain Taylor and served as the keeper before 1907, when Samuel Ako was put in charge of the light.
Upon assuming management of Lahaina Light in 1904, the Lighthouse Board wrote:
This can be a fixed white light made up of two ordinary kitchen lamps of small power, with green and red sectors, estimated to be 20 feet above high water. The lights are shown from a white pyramidal tower built on the top of a storehouse. It is hard to distinguish this light.
Due to this lack of the existing light, a replacement lighthouse was constructed in 1905. Lieutenant John R. Slattery, who graduated in the West Point class of 1900, was delivered to Hawai`i in 1904 to oversee the improvement of harbors and aids to navigation. Slattery saw Lahaina at April 1905 and made preparations for the building of a new lighthouse to function the wharf where over 500 steamers called every year.
The new wooden, pyramidal, skeleton tower has been fifty-five feet tall, thirty feet taller than its predecessor, and had an enclosed workroom close to the top, just under the lens stage. The lens lantern that substituted both normal reflector lamps had red and white industries. As long as a mariner stayed in the white sector, a secure approach to the port could be created. The Maui News gave the following description of the light, which was put in operation on May 13, 1905:”The superintendent and workmen used by Lieutenant Slattery have shown no small skill and energy in the construction of this lighthouse on Lahaina wharf. The structure climbs to a height of sixty feet and three inches above higher watermark. A splendid lens to the lantern was erased from Paris.”
A metal ladder leads one side of the tower to the platform where a red light is displayed. The durability and ease of maintaining concrete towers led to their installation. A metal plaque placed in the tower in 1984 by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, the caretakers for the lighthouse, provides a brief history of those towers built at the Website, which was initially home to the”earliest Pacific lighthouse”:
With this site in 1840, King Kamehameha III ordered a nine-foot wooden tower constructed as an aid to navigation to the whaling ships anchored off Lāhainā. It was outfitted with lamps kept burning by a Hawaiian caretaker that had been paid $20 each year night.
The tower was raised to 26 feet in 1866, rebuilt in 1905, and also the present concrete construction was dedicated from the Coast Guard in 1916. Thus this light was the very first from the Hawaiian Islands and pre-dates any lighthouse on the US Pacific Coast.
In February 1917, Keeper Ako filed lawsuit from the Pioneer Hotel Company for the sum of $10,000. The Pioneer Hotel was built near the wharf in Lahaina in 1901, also Keeper Ako was allegedly residing there, as he maintained that the hotel business”removed the furniture in the area he and his relatives were occupying in the Lahaina Hotel, compelling the occupants to sleep on the ground for four days and nights.” Maybe this instance prompted Ako such as the 1930 census for Lahaina lists him as a lawyer.
In 2009, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer David Garrett and his team from the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team in Honolulu transformed Lahaina Lighthouse to solar power, ending years of reliance on Maui Electric Co.. This movement, made possible by new developments in light-emitting diode (LED) technology, will remove power bills and permit the beacon to stay lit during electricity outages.