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 pieces."
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.