Lahaina Harbor as we know it today was originally dredged in 1955 in
front of what was once known as Lahaina Landing at the waterfront of the
Old Lahaina Fort. But the Port of Lahaina goes back almost two centuries
since Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845.

It was once an important destination for the 19th century whaling fleet,
whose presence at Lahaina frequently led to conflicts with the Christian
missionaries living there. On more than one occasion the conflict was so
severe that it led to the shelling of Lahaina by whaleships.
The Old Lahaina Fort was originally built in 1831 by
Hoapili, the Royal Governor of Maui. He built the fort
to protect the town from riotous sailors when Lahaina
was used as an anchorage for the North Pacific
whaling fleet. After the fort was demolished in 1854,
a courthouse was built on the site. A portion of the
old Lahaina Fort was reconstructed in 1964. The old
Lahaina Courthouse was recognized as a contributing
property of the Lahaina Historic District in 1965,
and is currently used by the Lahaina Arts Council
and the Lahaina Historic Society.

Whaling ships hunting sperm whales in the Pacific began to arrive in Hawaiʻi in 1819, and many ships anchored in
Honolulu and Lahaina. The impact of the whaling fleets on the Hawaiian Islands during the reign of Kamehameha III
(1825–1854) shaped the entire Hawaiian economy and was the primary source of income for the islands until the
discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859 and the onset of the American Civil War (1861–1865).

Ships would generally seek repairs in Honolulu, but captains preferred anchoring off Lahaina because of its easy access
from the Lahaina Roads and for the fresh provisions available in town. According to Henry L. Sheldon, "the business of
the entire population was the furnishing of supplies to whalers and entertaining the crews". Sailors who had been
hunting whales for months at a time went to Lahaina to drink grog and meet women.

By 1825 a kapu prohibiting women from going out to ships for the purpose of prostitution was proclaimed by the
Hawaiian chiefs (ali'i ). Enraged that they could not cajole, coax, or coerce Hawaiian women into violating the kapu,
the sailors turned their frustrations on the American missionaries, whom they blamed for the emergence of this new
unreasonably strict moral law.

Whalers opposed any rules governing alcohol and prostitution, and blamed missionaries for influencing the Kingdom of
Hawaii to enforce such rules. Riots broke out at least four times—in 1825, 1826, 1827, and 1843. In the 1827 riots,
sailors on the John Palmer fired their cannons at the home of missionary William Richards and threatened the safety of
the community.
Rear View of Lahaina by Edward T. Perkins circa 1854.
Queen Kaʻahumanu (1768–1832) visited Maui in February 1832, just months before she died, to support the
construction of a new fort to protect the town from whalers. With her help, Hoapili (1775–1840), Royal Governor of
Maui, built the fort on the Lahaina waterfront and it was completed within a month. The fort was constructed from
coral blocks with walls approximately 15–20 feet high topped with 47 cannons. An 1848 inventory lists 6 large
cannons, 21 small cannons, 6 breech-loaders, and 8 which did not work. The fort stored quantities of gunpowder,
guns, rifles, and swords, and was used as a prison. Sailors who docked at Lahaina were subject to a sunset curfew; it
they did not return to their ship when the drums sounded they would be imprisoned in the fort.

In 1841, American naval officer Charles Wilkes (1798–1877) visited Lahaina Fort as commanding officer of the United
States Exploring Expedition. Wilkes observed, "After the king's palace, the fort is the most conspicuous object: it is of
little account, however, as a defence, serving chiefly to confine unruly subjects and sailors in.

As the whaling industry declined and the California Gold Rush gained prominence in the late 1840s, Hawaii's
population dropped, and infectious disease epidemics contributed to the loss of local populations. The fort was
restored in 1847 but was now used more as a prison than for defending the Kingdom. The cannons were rusting and
the fort was mostly empty of personnel except for a few soldiers and the Governor of Maui who lived there. When
Henry Augustus Wise visited in 1848, he met James Young (1797–1851), then Governor of Maui, who was living in
the fort.

Wise wrote that it was: "an oddly assorted battery of some thirty pieces of artillery, of all sorts of carriages and
calibre—long, short, and mediums; they command the usual anchorage, and no doubt do very well to prevent any
acts of violence from merchant ships; but it is a question, if, at the second discharge of shot, they do not tumble to

In the 1850s, whaling began its steep decline. The forts in the Hawaiian Islands were in poor condition due to
damage and neglect, and were either abandoned or removed. Lahaina Fort was demolished in 1854. Its coral blocks
were reused to build Hale Paʻahao, a new prison at Wainee Street and Prison Road. In 1964, the State Parks
Department placed a reconstruction of the old fort wall in the southwest corner of the park.
The Lahaina Lighthouse has been a beacon for Lahaina Harbor since
Kamehameha III commissioned it in 1840. Originally only 9 feet tall, the top
of the lighthouse held a lamp lit with whale oil harvested just off its shore.

The Lahaina Lighthouse was not only the first navigation aid in the Hawaiian
Islands, it was the first lighthouse in the entire US Pacific since it was first lit
on November, 4, 1840.

With an increase in whaling and more ships arriving, the lighthouse grew to a
height of 26 feet in 1866 and began burning kerosene.

When Hawai‘i was annexed by the US, the harbormaster assumed
responsibility for the Lahaina Lighthouse. A new 55 foot-tall lighthouse was
constructed in 1905 and was equipped with a fresnel lens. The Coast Guard
took it over in 1916 and it was then automated with electricity in 1937.

Today the Lahaina Lighthouse is maintained by the Lahaina Restoration
Foundation. and donations are appreciated.
Oldest Pacific Lighthouse
675 Wharf Street, Lahaina, Hawaii 96761

Harbor Office: (808) 662-4060

20° 52′ 00″ N, 156° 40′ 00″ W

Approaches to Lahaina

This site is under construction and is provided as a free public service to sailors, fishermen and visitors alike.
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