Russians arrived in Hawaii in 1804 on ships associated with the Russian-American Fur Trading Company stationed at what is now Sitka, Alaska, to obtain fruit, vegetables and meat.
During this timeframe, Hawai‘i served as an important provisioning site for traders, whalers and others crossing the Pacific.
On O‘ahu, in 1815, Kamehameha I granted Russian representatives permission to build a storehouse near Honolulu Harbor.
But, instead, directed by the German adventurer Georg Schaffer (1779-1836,) they began building a fort and raised the Russian flag.
They built their blockhouse near the harbor, against the ancient heiau of Pākākā and close to the King’s complex. There are reports that the Russians used stones from Pākākā in building their facility.
As a side note, Pākākā was the site of Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i’s negotiations relinquishing power to Kamehameha I, instead of going to war, and pledged allegiance to Kamehameha, a few years earlier in 1810.
When Kamehameha discovered the Russians were building a fort (rather than storehouses) and had raised the Russian flag, he sent several chiefs, along with John Young (his advisor,) to remove the Russians from Oʻahu by force, if necessary.
The Russian personnel judiciously chose to sail for Kauai instead of risking bloodshed. On Kauai, there they were given land by Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i; the Russian Fort Elizabeth was built soon after on Kaua‘i.
The partially built blockhouse at Honolulu was finished by Hawaiians under the direction of John Young and mounted guns protected the fort.
Its original purpose was to protect Honolulu by keeping enemy or otherwise undesirable ships out. But, it was also used to keep things in (it also served as a prison.)
By 1830, the fort had 40 guns mounted on the parapets all of various calibers (6, 8, 12 and probably a few 32 pounders.) Fort Kekuanohu literally means ‘the back of the scorpion fish,’ as in ‘thorny back,’ because of the rising guns on the walls. In 1838 there were 52 guns reported.
The fort protected Honolulu Harbor and also housed a number of administrative functions, including many years of service as Honolulu’s police headquarters. The first courts of the islands were held here until a new courthouse was built in 1853, adjacent to the fort.
Barracks, Officers’ quarters, the Governor’s House, prison cells, a guardhouse and several powder magazines were inside the 340-by-300-foot long, 12-foot high and 20-foot thick walls. The main entrance faced mauka, up Fort Street.
The fort’s massive 12-foot walls were torn apart and the fort dismantled in 1857 and used to fill the harbor to accommodate an expanding downtown.
Fort Street is one of the oldest streets in Honolulu and is named after this fort. Today, the site of the old fort is the open space called Walker Park, a small park at the corner of Queen and Fort streets (also fronting Ala Moana/Nimitz.)