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 Kauhola Point, HI    
Lighthouse destroyed.
Description: Near the northern tip of the Big Island, Kauhola Point juts out into the Pacific Ocean. Steep cliffs surround the point on either side, and reefs extend from the point for roughly two miles. Several ships wrecked off the point, prompting the establishment of a wooden-framed, forty-foot tower, topped by an enclosed lamp room.
1935 Aerial view of Kauhola Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A lens and reflector, fabricated by Barbier and Benard of Paris, amplified the light source and sent forth a beam from the lamp room's bay window that could be seen for ten miles. The light was activated in 1897, one year before Hawai`i became a U.S. territory.

In 1904, the Lighthouse Board took control of Hawai`i's navigational aids and shortly thereafter issued a report stating that Kahuola Point Light, along with numerous other lights, was in a dilapidated condition. No keeper's residence was attached to the station, and when Edward K. Moealoha, who served at the point from 1907 to 1913, was forced to spend the night at the light, his only shelter was a small service shed. After Moealoha's resignation, a keeper's dwelling was built roughly 500 feet south of the light to help attract a new keeper. This one-story structure, completed on January 12, 1914 at a cost of $2,833, was described in the annual report of the Department of Commerce as being "34 by 35 feet in plan, and consisting of a living room-dining room, kitchen, pantry, two bedrooms, a bath, storeroom, and two closets, and is provided with a veranda off the living room, and complete plumbing." The one-story house had a plastered interior, an asbestos shingled roof, and was supported by a concrete pier foundation.

A replacement pyramidal, frame tower, capped by a metal lantern room housing a revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens, was built at the point in 1917. An incandescent oil vapor lamp produced a beam of light that could be seen for fourteen miles. At 9:45 p.m. on September 25, 1931, a fire, apparently caused by a faulty thermostat, erupted in the lantern room. The intense heat broke all the glass in the lantern room and cracked the top prisms of the lens. John Sweeney, the keeper at the time, managed to quickly extinguish the fire before the tower or clockwork mechanism were damaged, and he quickly set up an emergency lamp, which functioned for the remainder of the night.

The lighthouse tender Kukui was dispatched to the station the day after the fire with two laborers and a machinist on board to assist with repairs. Seven new panes of glass were installed in the lantern room, and the lens was overhauled.

2008 Aerial view of Kauhola Point Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy David Masinter
After fourteen years of repeated requests for a permanent, major light at Kauhola Point, funds were finally allocated in 1933 for the new tower. The plans, which were nearly identical to those used for the Nawiliwili Lighthouse built on Kaua`i the previous year, called for an eighty-six-foot, conical structure to be built of reinforced concrete. A 105-step spiral staircase led to the top of the tower, where a trap door had to be slid back to access the beacon. The welded, metal superstructure atop the tower housed two thirty-six-inch airway beacons, one of which was active while the other served as backup. The revolving beacon produced alternating red and green flashes every six seconds. Although this Christmas-like signature was in use elsewhere in the Pacific, it was a first for Hawai`i and was very favorably received and commented on by mariners. The station was supplied with commercial electricity, but an emergency generator was housed in the base of the tower in case of a power outage.

Mildred Lehuanui (Lehua) McColgan, one of three daughters of Keeper John Sweeney, has fond memories of the ten years her family spent at Kauhola Point. With no boys in the family and no assistant keeper assigned to the station, Lehua was given significant responsibilities at the lighthouse. She recalls helping with such duties as cleaning the spark plugs of the three generators in the lighthouse, entering weather conditions, earthquakes and the names of passing ships in the station’s logbook, painting wooden structures, and polishing the brass work every Saturday morning. Other tasks included mowing the yard, planting flowers and vegetables, and keeping the area around the lighthouse cleared all the way down to the coastline. The family never knew when an officer would arrive to inspect the station, so everything was always kept in order.

Destruction of lighthouse on Dec. 11, 2009.
Photograph courtesy Marci Elizondo
Prior to being assigned to Kauhola Point, Keeper Sweeney served at the Makapu'u Lighthouse. Each year the family took a short vacation during the summer, while a temporary keeper cared for the station. A frequent destination was South Point Lighthouse, where they would spend a few days and then visit other parts of the island where Keeper Sweeney could find rest and peace. If money were available, a trip to Honolulu was included in the vacation.

John Sweeney served as keeper of the Kauhola Point Lighthouse for roughly ten years before being transferred in mid-1941 to Barber’s Point, where he was serving when the blackout was imposed on all Hawaiian lights following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Keeper Sweeney’s final assignment before retirement was at the Diamond Head Lighthouse. Sidney Estrella served as the final keeper at Kauhola Point, leaving the station upon automation in 1951.

All that remains at the station today is the tower, minus its lantern room and with its windows cemented over, and the ruins of some of the outbuildings. The cement piers just west of the lighthouse probably served as the foundation for an earlier tower.

When originally built, the 1933 lighthouse stood eighty-five feet from the nearest cliff edge, but by 2009, this distance was reduced to just twenty feet. Between 2003 and 2007, the cliff face retreated fifteen feet with six feet being sheared off by an October 2006 earthquake. An engineering report completed in 2007 estimated that the tower would likely collapse within two to five years due to shoreline erosion. Relocating the tower was considered, but after consulting with state historic preservation officials, the Coast Guard decided to simply remove the tower and replace it with a monopole light located farther back from the cliff edge. The replacement light was in place by November of 2009, and demolition of the 1933 tower, which took three days, started on December 11th of that year.

Head Keepers: J. Hoopii (1904 – 1905), Robert Laing (1906 – 1907), Edward K. Moealoha (1907 – 1913), Frank A Peterson (1914 – 1915), William B. Welsbarth (1916), George Ah Choy (1917 – 1920), Charles K. Akana (1921 – 1922), John M. Sweeney (1923 – 1941), Sidney Estrella (1941 – 1951).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. The Lighthouses of Hawai`i, Love Dean, 1986.
  2. "Big Island lighthouse on crumbling peninsula to be removed," HonoluluAdvetiser.com, October 27, 2009.

Location: Located just over five miles west of the northernmost point on the Big Island.
Latitude: 20.24628
Longitude: -155.77142

For a larger map of Kauhola Point Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From the intersection of Highway 250 and 270 in Hawi, near the northernmost point on the big island, proceed east on Highway 270 (Akoni Pule Highway). After roughly two miles, you need to turn left. You will see ATV Outfitters at this intersection, and the road to your right is Maulili Road. As you drive towards the ocean the road will become progressively worse, and there is a gate that may be locked. You will need a vehicle with high clearance to reach the Kauhola Point Lighthouse when the gate is open, or you can park and walk the last mile or so.

ATV Outfitters offers tours that provide a distant view of the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Kauhola Point Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Locating this light was an adventure. Before arriving at the eastern end of Highway 270, we knew we had gone too far, but we wanted to see the Pololu Valley anyway. The lighthouse is actually closer to Kapaau, where you will see a statue of Kamehameha the Great, who was born nearby. This statue is identical to the famous statue on the grounds of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu. The statue in Kapauu was cast in Florence in 1830, but was lost when the ship carrying it went down off the Falkland Islands. A second statue was cast from the original mold and delivered to Honolulu in 1833. The sunken statue was later recovered and brought here to Kamehameha's childhood home.
Marilyn writes:
I would HIGHLY recommend the 4 wheel drive scenario if at all possible. It is a terrible road even with a SUV -- there are pockets where it looks like the land separated from an earthquake, but it is possible with careful driving. If you choose to walk, plan for lots of time and just when I thought we would never find this, we hit success. Walking back away from the light up the coastline a little bit adds to a picturesque view of it. It is a beautiful location and not to be missed.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.