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Kauhola Point, HI  Lighthouse destroyed.   

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Kauhola Point Lighthouse

Kauhola Point Lighthouse in 1904. The shack beneath the tower was used as a combined store house/living quarters for the keeper. Keeper Hoopii, the first keeper of the light, built the structure at left for additional room.
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. After several ships wrecked off the point, the Hawaiian Government constructed a wood-frame, forty-foot tower, topped by an enclosed lamp room. 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 Kauhola 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 475 feet south of the light to help attract a new keeper. The dwelling, completed on January 12, 1914 at a cost of $2,833, was described in the Annual Report of the Department of Commerce:

The dwelling is a one-story frame structure, with plastered interior and asbestos shingled roof and is supported upon a concrete pier foundation. It is approximately 34 by 35 feet in plan, and consists of a living-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 dwelling was built over a three-month period by a crew of thirteen men under the direction of Leslie E. Bailey, construction foreman for the lighthouse district.

At some point after 1904, a lens lantern displayed from the top of a thirty-foot mast replaced the old wooden tower on Kauhola Point. This mast light served until a replacement pyramidal, frame tower, capped by a metal lantern room housing a revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens, was built on the point in 1917. The Lighthouse Service had been trying to secure funds for a new tower on the point since at least 1911, and though this new tower was described as a “temporary,” it was a stout structure. Illuminated by an incandescent oil vapor lamp, the lens produced a white flash every six seconds that could be seen for up to fourteen miles. The new light had a focal plane of sixty-six feet, but the same year it was established, the Lighthouse Service requested funds to erect a concrete tower at this “important landfall station” that would raise the light to a height of 110 feet above the surrounding water.

New lighthouse under construction in 1932
John M. Sweeney was in charge of Kauhola Point Lighthouse from 1923 to 1941, and his eighteen-year tenure was longer than any other keeper at the station. Keeper Sweeney’s diligent service during 1925 resulted in his receiving the efficiency flag, an award given to the keeper whose station was considered the best kept during the year. During the fall of 1929, the Big Island experienced a “seismic crisis,” during which two of the strongest earthquakes to shake the island occurred – a magnitude-6.1 earthquake on September 25 followed by a magnitude-6.5 earthquake on October 5. One resident not far from Kauhola Point Lighthouse counted 444 earthquakes during a three-day period. This swarm of earthquakes broke the mantle used in the incandescent oil vapor lamp at Kauhola Point on several occasions.

Though Kauhola Point was somewhat isolated, it became less so through the generous gift of a radio receiving set by A. Atwater Kent, a Philadelphia radio manufacturer who supplied sets to several lighthouse keepers. Keeper Sweeney wrote to the Commissioner of Lighthouses in 1928, relating that thanks to the radio, he and his family could hear radio station broadcasts from New York as “clear as a bell.”

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. Keeper Sweeney managed to quickly extinguish the fire before the tower or clockwork mechanism was 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. In 1932, two generators were installed at the station, and the lighthouse was electrified.

After fourteen years of repeated requests for a 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 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 generators were housed in the base of the tower in case of a power outage. Alarms would inform the keepers if a generator stopped or if one light failed and the other had to be engaged. The new lighthouse cost $17,495 and was left unpainted for a year to allow the concrete to cure before it was given its white daymark.

Destruction of lighthouse on Dec. 11, 2009.
Photograph courtesy Marci Elizondo
Mildred Lehuanui (Lehua) McColgan, one of three daughters of Keeper John Sweeney, has fond memories of the 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.

Prior to being assigned to Kauhola Point, Keeper Sweeney served at 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.

After his service at Kauhola Point, Keeper Sweeney was transferred in mid-1941 to Barbers 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 Diamond Head Lighthouse. Sidney Estrella served as the final keeper at Kauhola Point, leaving the station upon automation in 1951.

All that remained at the station during my visit in 2007 was the headless concrete tower, whose windows had been cemented over, and the ruins of some of the outbuildings. The cement piers just west of the lighthouse served as the foundation for the 1917 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 demolish the tower and replace it with a monopole light located farther back from the cliff edge. The replacement light was in place by November 2009, and demolition of the 1933 tower, which took three days, started on December 11 of that year.


  • Head: John Hoopii (1904 – 1905), William O. Taylor (1905 – 1906), H. Deacon (1906), Robert Laing (1906 – 1907), Edward K. Moealoha (1907 – 1913), Frank A. Peterson (1914 – 1915), William B. Welsbarth, Jr. (1915 – 1916), George Ah Choy (1917 – 1920), Charles K. Akana (1920 – 1922), John M. Sweeney (1922 – 1932), James K. Haleamau (1932 – 1933), John M. Sweeney (1933 – 1941), Sidney Estrella (1941 – 1951).
  • Assistant: Jasper B. Ross ( – 1915), John N. Ano (1915 – ), Joseph D. Keliinui (1917), John M. Kaohimaunu (1917 – 1922), John Enos (1931 – 1932).


  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. The Lighthouses of Hawai`i, Love Dean, 1986.
  4. “Big Island lighthouse on crumbling peninsula to be removed,” HonoluluAdvertiser.com, October 27, 2009.

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