Thursday, March 17, 2016

McGregor Point Lighthouse, Maui, Hawai'i

McGregor Point Lighthouse in 2000 (Photo by Larry Myhre)
Minor lights don't get much publicity; yet, they often have an interesting history. I researched McGregor Point Light on Maui, a few miles south of Lahaina, about two years ago for a friend named McGregor. He was wondering if he might have some connection to the lighthouse. A little research showed he had distant relatives who went to Hawai'i in the nineteenth century, so perhaps he is related to the man for whom this light and its point are named.
McGregor Point Light is typical of the many minor light structures built in Hawai'i. Even modern-day Lahaina Light, one of Hawai'i's oldest lighthouse sites, is similar in design. Once the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment discovered the wonder material called concrete, it became a standard for inexpensive lighthouse construction. In Hawai'i, where the budget for lighthouses was low following acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands as a U.S. territory, concrete was a miracle material. You'll see many minor lights, and a few major ones, in our 50th state built of concrete in this square, pyramidal shape. They may not be the prettiest lighthouses, but their stories are important.
Captain Daniel McGregor, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland and then to Hawai’i in the 1860s, was the first keeper of Honolulu Harbor Lighthouse, established in 1869. He lit the lamps for the first time on August 2, 1869. The beacon was a simple oil lantern in a 26-foot wooden tower. The light could be seen for about 8 miles. Because the lantern looked like a birdcage, mariners quickly nicknamed it “The Harbor Wink.”

In 1871, Captain McGregor left the lighthouse to command the steamer Kilauea. He ran an inter-island trade called the Ko’olau Trade, the name referring to trade with ports on the windward sides of the islands.

One night in the 1870s, McGregor’s was headed for the Mā’laea Bay landing on Maui. He knew he could not anchor in such an exposed area as the landing afforded, and so he ordered his crew to take soundings and find a sheltered place to drop anchor. They did. Come morning, the captain saw that his ship was in a quiet cove in Mā’laea Bay, protected by bluffs. It soon was dubbed McGregor Point and became the preferred landing area in foul weather.

In the 1880s the Wilder Steamship Company, which ran a passenger and freight service between the islands, began erecting private aids to navigation, since the island government at the time did not have the resources to build lighthouses. The company’s beacons were situated along the waterways their ships traveled. One place that needed to be marked was McGregor Point near the Mā’laea Bay landing. Coral reefs off the point made navigation tricky.

The first beacon here was a small lantern hung from a post, like the one pictured below. The lantern glass was red to distinguish it from lights on the plantations behind it.

In 1904, after the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment took over the navigational aids in Hawai’i, the lamp at Mā’laea Bay was replaced with a lens-lantern, an 8-day lamp about three feet tall with a kerosene reservoir, and the post was switched out for a 12-foot-tall one. The beacon remained fixed red. A local lamplighter was paid to refill and service the lamp once a week. If there from mid-December through mid-May, he might have seen humpback whales in the ocean off the lighthouse. Today, it’s Hawai’i’s most popular whale-watching spot.

In 1908, after the United States acquired the Territory of Hawai’i, the U.S. government set aside 1.33 acres of land at McGregor Point and moved the beacon there.

From: Statutes of the United States of America, 1919:

NOW THEREFORE I, WOODROW WILSON, President of the United States, by virtue of the authority in me vested, do hereby declare proclaim and make known that the parcel of land situated at McGregor Point, District of Lahaina on the Island of Maui, in the Territory of Hawaii, reserved for lighthouse purposes, by Presidential Proclamation of December 4 1908, be and the same is hereby restored to the possession use and control of the government of the Territory of Hawaii to wit. Dwelling Site: From a concrete monument marking former location of McGregor Point Light Station, measure by true azimuth 138º 45’ 945 ft to a point on the hillside for a place of beginning Thence by true azimuths and distances—

1.     157º 52’ 275 ft thence

2.     104º 15’ 450 ft thence

3.     337º 52’ 560 ft more or less to north side of Government road thence

4.     Along Government road to place bearing 337º 52’ and being about 300 ft distant from place of beginning thence

5.     157º 52’ 300 ft to place of beginning Containing 4.2 acres more or less

This new light showed from a 32-foot mast on the bluff  80-feet above the sea. There was a storage building at the foot of the mast, painted white with a red roof. About 1000-yards from the mast was a small one, story dwelling for a resident lightkeeper. It was painted light green with a red roof. The station (proper title for a lighthouse complex with mast or tower, dwelling, and other buildings) was completed and placed in service May 1, 1906. Three months later, the wisdom of placing the station on the high bluff was proven. Tsunami waves destroyed the Mā’laea Bay wharf but did not reach the lighthouse.

From 1911-1912 the lightkeeper was Luther K. Kalama. In 1913 John N. Ano was listed as the keeper of the light at McGregor Point.

About 1914, during the keepership of John Chester, the mast light was replaced by a 20-foot-tall reinforced concrete tower of pyramidal shape.

From: Annual Report, United States Dept. of the Interior, 1915--

On the island of Maui a new concrete tower has been erected and the apparatus purchased for the change in the near future of the lens lantern oil lighted station at McGregor Point to an acetylene gas lighted station and a change of Kauiki Head Light Station from oil to acetylene gas light was completed in April 1914.

The focal plane of the new light at McGregor Point was 72-feet above sea. James L. Cornwell, the lightkeeper in 1915, left the station, since it was now equipped to operate automatically with acetylene gas tanks. An inspector keeper would henceforth visit the light every few months to make sure all was in order. The beacon was changed from fixed red to a white flash for 0.5 seconds every 1.5 seconds, at 160 candlepower. This was the work of the new U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses, whose commissioner, George R. Putnam, aimed to cut costs with automation.

During World War II the station was staffed by the Coast Guard, mainly as a lookout for enemy activity. Edmund L. Arruda was the Officer in Charge shortly after the war began. Probably, there were several Coast Guard personal at the station at this time to share watches.

For a few years (dates unknown) it is believed the light was unlit. It may have been extinguished during the war and the station used only as a lookout. It might also have been painted in camouflage green to make it less easy to see. This was the case at a number of U.S. lighthouses during the war, including Barbers Point Lighthouse on Oahu. A Light List for 1944 had McGregor Point Light lighted, and another one in 1959 indicates it was lighted at this time too. For certain, it was lighted in the early 1960s. Ed Marques, resident keeper at Pa’wela Point Lighthouse on the opposite shore of Maui was the inspection keeper at this time for McGregor Point Light and several other automated beacons on Maui. He lived at Pa’wela Point.

In recent years, the Coast Guard has updated the lighthouse with a modern green beacon and solarized it. It's easy to see from Rt. 30 on the south coast of Maui.
Author James Gibbs on top of McGregor Point Lighthouse in the late 1960s. (Photo from the author's collection)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting history.

    FWIW, in 1948, Edmund Louis Arruda was assigned for several months as assistant keeper at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.


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