It’s obvious that when your travels take you to Maui–or any island in Hawaii for that matter–you’ll likely spend most of your time on the beach or in the water. That’s certainly true for Lahaina, but there’s more to it than just the sun, the ocean, and fine golden sand. Lahaina is also a city of historical significance. It was the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and it was once a busy whaling port in the 1800s. Finally, it was a popular settlement for missionaries. Many of the historical homes in Lahaina were built and used by missionaries.
Lahaina Historic District
Making Its Mark as The Kingdom’s Capital
Lahaina was the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It was the preferred location of King Kamehameha the Great–in 1802 he declared it the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and it remained so for 45 years. To get a better understanding of the Lahaina historic district as a royal capital, explore Lahaina’s Historical Walking Trail. The trail highlights some of the sites related to King Kamehameha the Great, including the ruins of Brick Palace, the first western-style home–which the king built for his favorite wife Kaʻahumanu–and the original grass house location of Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena, another one of the king’s wives.
The Naughty Side of Lahaina
For a quarter of a century, between 1840-1865, Lahaina was the center of global whaling. Its port’s calm waters made it ideal for sailing ships to anchor in. Ships will often dock in Honolulu for repairs, but it was in Lahaina where the whalers preferred to get drunk and engage in lewd acts; many of them ended up in jail because of their disruptive behaviors. Several sites like the Old Lahaina Fort, the Hake Pa‘Ahao or Lahaina Prison, and the U.S. Seamen Hospital will give visitors great insights on what the town was like during this raucous period.
The Taming of the Town
Missionaries began to migrate to Lahaina in the early 1800s and brought with them the values of religion, literacy, and education. They insisted on building churches and schools to convert and educate locals. Their social and political influence, however, often conflicted with the visiting sailors. Some conflicts were severe enough to cause riots and a shelling of a missionary home. Some of the historical sites associated with missionaries include the Baldwin Home, which was used as a medical office and center for social activities, and the Banyan tree, planted to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries.
A stroll along Lahaina’s Front Street will tell you that the city hasn’t changed all that much. There might be more hotels and tourists on the streets, but most of the structures and the locals remain true to their heritage. In fact, many of the city’s historical sites are currently being restored to preserve Hawaiian history and share its importance to many of the island’s visitors. Also, many of Lahaina’s main attractions include museums like the Whaler’s Village Museum and the Lahaina Heritage Museum that showcase the interesting historical side of Lahaina.
Lahaina is definitely more than a beach destination. Its place in Hawaiian history was secured when it became the Kingdom’s first royal capital. From then onwards, it became a center for trade and a city of many firsts. Make the most out of your visit to Lahaina by checking out the website of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. It has detailed information about the Lahaina historic district. Go Hawaii also has information on Maui’s history as well as details on activities, restaurants, rental cars, and cheap hotels in Lahaina.