Lahaina was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the town became a favorite place for Hawaiian kings and queens. Between 1795 and 1810, Kamehameha, chief of the Big Island of Hawaii, conquered Maui and all of the other islands, and unified them into a single kingdom. King Kamehameha I established Lahaina as his royal residence and Lahaina became the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845.
In 1778, Captain James Cook became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. In 1819, the first American whaling ships arrived in Lahaina and it soon became one of the main Pacific ports for the North Pacific whaling fleet. The whaling fleet attracted immigrants who established commerce to serve the sailors. By the 1850s, more than 400 whaling ships a year were making port in Lahaina. Missionaries arrived in 1823, established a mission and then the first church but the missionaries and sailors didn’t get along. Conflicts even resulted in construction of a fort on the waterfront. The center of missionary activity became the home of Dr. Dwight Baldwin, the Lahaina pastor of the Hawaiian church and physician for Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.
In 1845, the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii was relocated to Honolulu. After the collapse of the whaling industry, sugar production because the main industry in West Maui. In 1861, a sugar mill, later known as the Pioneer Mill Company, was established in Lahaina and many of the Chinese immigrants who came to the Hawaiian Islands to work on the sugar plantations found work here.
In 1873, an 8-foot Indian banyan tree was planted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina. Now a historical landmark, it is 60-feet tall and covers an entire block. It also was the site of a ceremony to mark Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory in 1898. Later, in 1910, the Chinese built a temple in downtown Lahaina, the Wo Hing Society Hall. This building has been restored and houses the Wo Hing Museum.
The Lahaina Historic District, which encompasses downtown Lahaina, Front Street, and its vicinity, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. It includes The Master’s Reading Room, The Baldwin Home Museum, the Brick Palace built by King Kamehameha for his wife, the Pioneer Inn near the famous Banyan Tree, the Courthouse that now contains the Lahaina Heritage Museum (which certainly deserves a visit), as do many other sites, depending on your time and interest