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Kalaupapa Lighthouse, 1909

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

In 1880, the long, narrow island of Moloka‘i had only one lighthouse, located in Kaunakakai. Yet by 1900, hundreds of vessels of the Pacific Coast trade annually passed through the channel between O‘ahu and Moloka‘i’s north side -- where the Hansen’s Disease Settlement was located. This disease was so greatly feared that only after annexation, when the Islands became a sub-district of the 12th U.S. Lighthouse District, was a temporary light set up. A permanent light station was completed in June 1909. On Sept. 1, lighthouse keeper James Keanu put the light with its special Fresnel lens -- a rare giant of a crystal-like jewel -- into operation. Two-hundred-thirteen feet above the water, it was the brightest light in the Pacific and flashed twenty-one miles out to sea. Houses for lighthouse keepers and their families and other buildings formed a tiny community amidst the spectacular natural beauty of the Kalaupapa peninsula. To the Hansen’s Disease settlement’s patients, just two miles away, the light rhythmically sweeping over the pali and across the black lava rocks was a part of their lives.

By the 1960s, 1,800 vessels passed the peninsula yearly. The Moloka‘i light was outmoded. Under jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, a fully automated system was installed in 1966, and the last keeper departed. The property was eventually transferred to the National Park Service and the light tower was put on the National Register of Historic Places. The Fresnel lens was taken to Lahaina for exhibition, but Kalaupapa believes the lens should come home to Moloka‘i.


Pp-2-4-003aerial view of proposed kalaupapa airport, molokai, including the lighthouse.

Photo Credit: Hawaiʻi State Archives

Aerial view of proposed Kalaupapa Airport, Molokaʻi, including the lighthouse.

Pp-2-4-004 kalaupapa lighthouse

Photo Credit: Hawaiʻi State Archives

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Pp-58-1-030-00001 lighthouse

Photo Credit: Hawaiʻi State Archives

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