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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 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.
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
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