Lahaina's History

NOTE: The Lahaina Restoration Foundation provides several locations where you can pick up an updated map showing the historical locations throughout Lahaina, which are marked on the map in the accompanying images.

Today, Lahaina is a place where history and culture come alive. In the past, Lahaina has been the residence of Maui’s highest chiefs, the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, the site of the breaking of the kapu of ancient Hawai‘i and a few years later, the first secondary school established west of the Rockies. Lahaina has also seen sea captains and whalers, immigrant laborers and the jet-set vie for a place in its history.

To commemorate Lahaina’s rich heritage, the Lahaina Interpretive Plan Team designed a series of interpretive signs and orientation maps called Ala Hele Mo‘olelo O Lahaina, the Lahaina Historic Trail, which is now installed throughout Lahaina’s two historic districts surrounding Front Street. This self-guided walking tour provides a view of each era of the town that is considered one of the most historically significant places in Hawai‘i.

Whether you park at the south end of town in the 500 block of Front Street (near the Moku‘ula restoration site) and journey north, or park near 900 Front Street (at Lahaina Center) and stroll south, you’ll discover that there are many notable spots marked by a metal plaque with the name of the trail and a breadfruit design at the top. In several parking lots in town there are wooden kiosks which display a large, colorful map of the town and 65 historic trail sites. By stopping to read the trail markers, you will get a good idea of what really took place at these spots and see a photo or rendering of what the site may have looked like in generations past. 

The timeline for this trail covers Hawaii’s history from the great rulers of Maui in the 16th century, the Pi‘ilani Family, through the wars of unification of the islands in the late 18th century, to the beginning of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the era of the Kamehameha kings (I, II and III). The signage also describes the arrival of the missionary era in Lahaina, and talks about whaling, the shipping trade, and the constitutional government. The annexation of Hawai‘i as a territory of the U.S. heralded the start of the plantation era and the migration of Asian and European laborers who significantly shaped the town in the first half of the 20th century.
Some of the stories along the trail include the explanation of an ahupua‘a, the land division of ancient Hawai‘i, and how the Hawaiians lived in harmony with the land and sea.

You’ll discover photos of early modern Lahaina with its canal waterways and fish markets, and delight in the “secrets” of kings and missionaries. In the heart of town under the towering Banyan Tree, you can learn that the Lahaina Court & Custom House has served in an official capacity since 1860. The building oversaw the change from Kingdom of Hawai‘i to government by the United States, and was once used as a courtroom, police station and jail. Old Lahaina Courthouse now officially welcomes visitors to West Maui.

The second floor of the courthouse functions as a museum showcase, featuring a large wall display box with a real treasure for the people of Lahaina: the 1890’s Hawaiian Flag. This is the same flag that flew over the Court & Custom House when Hawai‘i officially became a U.S. Territory. Arthur Waal Sr., Lahaina’s assistant postmaster at the time, was ordered to lower the flag of the Hawaiian Kingdom and raise the Stars & Stripes during a poignant ceremony on August 12, 1898.

Museums in town that provide a window to Lahaina’s colorful past are:  Lahaina Heritage Museum inside Old Lahaina Courthouse tells the story of Lahaina through the ages. Plantation Museum in The Wharf Cinema Center features photo exhibits and family heirlooms from sugar and pineapple plantation life along with plantation camp maps. Baldwin Home Museum showcases the life of Maui’s early missionary families and the pioneering work of Dr. Dwight Baldwin. Wo Hing Museum & Cookhouse provide stories and exhibits about the Chinese immigrants who set up shop and lived in Lahaina. Hale Pa‘ahao (Stuck-in-Irons House) is the Old Lahaina Prison, where a whaler and whale boat displays tell stories about the whaling era and visitors can enjoy a botanical garden.

Through the Lahaina Historic Trail and Lahaina’s museum attractions, the community presents its town’s history in an informational and interactive manner to visitors.