Our quest to photograph every lighthouse in the United States took us over 12 years, most of our time and most of our money. It was a wonderful journey that took us all over the Continental United States, as well as Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. We had some grand adventures and met many nice people, many of whom helped us on our way.
However, every quest, every adventure, has to have an end. On the North end of the Big Island, Hawaii, when we photographed Kauhola Point Lighthouse, we had completed our quest of photographing every standing lighthouse in the United States.
Our guide, Bill Wong, of ATV Outfitters, drove us out on the muddy, rutted road in a 4-wheel drive truck, to the lighthouse. When we were done with our photos, he took a photo of us and said “NOW you are ALL PAU!” (Hawaiian for all done). This lighthouse is very special to us. A fitting finale to a long journey, it sits on a windblown cliff looking out over the Pacific.
The first light on Kauhola Point, known as the Kohala Beacon, was built in 1897. It was a 40-foot wooden tower with an enclosed lamp room on top. By 1904 it was called the Kauhola Point Light and was in bad condition, needing to be repaired.
In 1917 a frame tower with a lantern room and a lens, lighted by oil, took the place of the original lens-lantern. This structure was meant to be temporary, but stood for 14 years, even through a fire in 1931. The heat of the fire shattered the lantern windows and damaged part of the lens. It was repaired so the light could be shown, but it needed replacing.
In 1933 a new tower was built, a twin of the Nawiliwili light on Kauai. It was 86 feet high and had a “lantern deck” and not a lantern room. It never had a Fresnel lens, but had two 36-inch airway beacons.
The keepers’ house was built in 1914, and later other outbuildings were constructed. Now only the beautiful lighthouse stands and one little outbuilding to keep it company.
The road to Kauhola Point can be very difficult. If it’s muddy, it is impassible and if it is in good condition, it is still a long hike. The road winds through what were once sugar mills and sugarcane fields, which have now reverted back to jungle.
In October of 2006, Hawaii had an earthquake that struck Kauhola Point causing part of the cliff to fall into the ocean. Now, the 86 foot tall tower is not only perilously close to the cliff, a Coast Guard contact tells us there are cracks in the earth within a foot or two of the lighthouse. A lighthouse friend sent us current photos of the lighthouse showing the damage that started our quest for information.
I contacted a retired Coast Guard friend in Hawaii, who said “From the sounds of it, the cliff is now very close to the light and it is going to be a very dangerous to move or recover what was lost. It might even be dangerous servicing the light with most of the bluff gone from around the light. I would imagine that the rest of the ground around the light is very unstable and it could fall at any time.”
I have also talked to a several other civilian and Coast Guard contacts in Hawaii. In September, the difficult road to the Kauhola Point Lighthouse was leveled so that heavy equipment could get to the area and drill soil samples that will tell the extent of the damage and a decision will be made some time this winter as to what, if anything can be done.
However, since heavy equipment could probably not get close enough on the unstable earth to stabilize, secure or move the structure, it is highly likely that the time for saving the Kauhola Point Lighthouse has passed by.
Sometime in the not to distant future, we will most likely be saying “Aloha” to another historic lighthouse and one that has a special place in our hearts.
This story appeared in the
November 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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