The lighthouse has no special friends,
No special foes when night descends,
In all the earth the only place,
Though statesmen talk and kings embrace,
Where man becomes one common race.
(“The Lighthouse;” Douglas Malloch, 1934)
The earliest lighthouse in Hawaiʻi was one built at Keawaiki, Lāhainā, and put into operation on November 4, 1840. It was described as a “tall looking box-like structure, about nine feet high and one foot wide … facing the landing.”
Other early lighthouses were constructed at Kawaihae in 1859, at Keawaiki in 1866, and on Kaholaloa Reef at the entrance to Honolulu Harbor in 1869.
Then, the Diamond Head Lighthouse was built.
A 40-foot open frame tower was constructed at Honolulu Iron Works (due to concerns about the stability of the structure, the open framework was enclosed with walls constructed of coral.)
Its light was first lit on July 1, 1899. The light had a red sector to mark dangerous shoals and reefs.
John M Kaukaliu was the first keeper of the Diamond Head Lighthouse.
“(N)o keeper’s dwelling was provided, he lived at a private residence about a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse (about where the Lēʻahi Beach Park is now situated.)” He was paid $75 per month. (US Lighthouse Board)
When the Lighthouse Board took control of all aids to navigation in the Hawaiian Islands in 1904, it reported that the Diamond Head Lighthouse was the only first-class lighthouse in the territory.
In 1904, a floor was added to the tower, 14’ above ground level. Windows were placed in 2 existing openings in the tower walls and telephone lines were installed in the tower.
Then tragedy struck …
“Lighthouse Keeper is Found Stricken at Top of Tower – John Kaukaliu, the aged and well known lighthouse keeper at the Diamond Head lighthouse, was found Friday morning in a helpless paralyzed condition by his assistant and was removed to his home in Waikiki Friday afternoon in the emergency hospital ambulance.”
“Frank Stevenson, emergency hospital assistant, says that to carry Kaukaliu from the top of the lighthouse where he had probably lain for hours it was necessary to strap him to the stretcher and carry him almost perpendicularly down the circular stairs.” (Honolulu Star-bulletin, October 7, 1916)
“Kaukaliu was born here 62-years ago and was one of the best known and most popular Hawaiians in Honolulu. He is survived by his wife and a daughter, Mrs William Meyers, by his first wife.” (Honolulu Star-bulletin, October 16, 1916)
In 1917, funds were allocated for constructing a fifty-five-foot tower of reinforced concrete on the original foundation. The old tower was replaced with the modern concrete structure, which strongly resembles the original tower.
It wasn’t until 5-years later (1921) that a home for the lighthouse keeper was constructed at the Diamond Head Lighthouse. A keeper occupied the dwelling for just three years, as the station was automated in 1924.
Subsequently, the dwelling became home to Frederick Edgecomb, superintendent of the Nineteenth Lighthouse District (my great uncle.) He lived at the lighthouse until 1939, when the Coast Guard assumed control of all lighthouses.
During World War II, a Coast Guard radio station was housed in the keeper’s dwelling, and a small structure was built on the seaward side of the tower. Following the war, the dwelling was remodeled and has since been home to the Commanders of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District.
The image shows the route John Kaukaliu walked from his home to the Diamond Head Lighthouse.