Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. Rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area.
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands. Whalers needed water and food, and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands.
The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. For Hawaiian ports, the whaling fleet was the crux of the economy.
More than 100 ships stopped in Hawaiian ports in 1824. Over the next two decades, the Pacific whaling fleet nearly quadrupled in size and in the record year of 1846, 736-whaling ships arrived in Hawai‘i.
While it lacked a natural “harbor,” Lāhainā became one of the Islands’ leading whaling ports. Whalers’ small “chase boats” had to come in from the deep-water offshore anchorage to trade.
While the name Lāhainā means “cruel sun” and the area only averages 13 inches of rain per year, spring-fed, freshwater streams and canals once flowed through it .
Reportedly, during the 1790s, British captain George Vancouver visited this part of Maui and called it “the Venice of the Pacific.”
By the 1840s, Hawaiʻi was the whaling center of the Pacific. Lāhainā became a bustling port with shopkeepers catering to the whalers – saloons, brothels and hotels boomed.
The whalers would transfer their catch to trade ships bound for the continent, allowing them to stay in the Pacific for longer periods without having to take their catch to market.
In the 1840s, the US consular representative recommended digging a canal from one of the freshwater streams that ran through Lāhainā and charging a fee to the whalers who wanted to obtain fresh water.
A few years after the canal was built, the government built a thatched Marketplace with stalls for Hawaiians to sell goods to the sailors.
Merchants quickly took advantage of this marketplace and erected drinking establishments, grog shops and other pastimes of interest nearby. Within a few years, this entire area reportedly became known as “Rotten Row.”
In 1859, an oil well was discovered and developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania; within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses – spelling the end of the whaling industry.
At about this same time, the sugar industry in Hawaiʻi was beginning to boom. With the growing importance of sugar (and the thirsty crops’ need for water,) waters were diverted to the service of sugar production.
Eventually, the Lāhainā area was drained of its wetlands. In 1913, the canal was filled in to construct Canal Street and the Market is now King Kamehameha III Elementary school.
Later, eleven-and a-half acres of Lāhaina “swamp land” (near the National Guard Armory,) drainage canals and storm sewers were part of the Lāhaina Reclamation District. (1916-1917) Mokuhinia Pond was filled with coral rubble dredged from Lāhaina Harbor.
By Executive Order of the Territory of Hawaii in 1918, the newly-filled pond was turned over to the County of Maui for use as Maluʻuluʻolele Park.