Hilo became a significant center for foreign activities, primarily as a result of the establishment of religious mission stations by American missionaries. Passengers and cargo landed at Hilo in the surf along the beach until about 1863, when a wharf was constructed at the base of present day Waiānuenue Street. By 1874, Hilo ranked as the second largest population center in the islands, and within a few years shortly thereafter Hilo with its fertile uplands, plentiful water supply and good port became a major center for sugarcane production and export.
Several sites were suggested for the first light to mark Hilo Bay, but the one finally selected was on the shore at Paukaʻa, two-and-a-half miles north of Hilo. The light was erected and first lit on August 13, 1869. In 1890, a new Pauka‘a Light was built on the bluff above the original site. After the Lighthouse Board took control of Hawaii’s lights in 1904, a thirty-eight-foot mast was erected in place of the tower.