First time visitors to Hawaii’s Barbers Point Lighthouse might be inclined to think that they might see a red and white spiral striped lighthouse resembling a barber’s pole, or that the lighthouse was named for a man who cut hair for a living. But, such is not the case. The area where the lighthouse stands was named Barber’s Point after Captain Henry Barber, whose brig the Arthur as wrecked at the site on October 31, 1796. The name Barber’s Point with an apostrophe remained in use until 1969 when the United States Board of Geographic Names dropped the apostrophe and changed it to Barbers Point.
A lighthouse for Barbers Point was first approved in 1880 under the regime of King David Kalakaua, who was the last person to hold the title of King of Hawaii. However, it took another eight years before funds were made available to complete the lighthouse in 1888. When Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1898, all of the aids to navigation in Hawaii, including Barbers Point Lighthouse, came under the jurisdiction of the United States Lighthouse Establishment.
Throughout the years, the old 1888 lighthouse served well, but in 1912 it was decided to install a new 4th order lens in the tower. To do so required a larger lantern, so the old lantern was removed and discarded, and a new lantern was installed. At this time the old exterior metal steps leading to the top of the tower were removed.
As time went on, the old tower was showing its age and was thought to be beyond repair. The government approved money for a new and much taller lighthouse, which was completed in 1933 and lighted with the same 4th order Fresnel lens that had been in use in the old tower. After the new taller tower was completed, the old Barbers Point Lighthouse was toppled over and came crashing to the ground. It now exists only in a limited number of old photographs that are scattered here and there.
Over the years, the lighthouse had a number of notable Hawaii lighthouse keepers who were stationed there including Samuel Amalu, Manuel Ferreira, Fred Robins, Sr., and John M. Sweeney.
Samuel Apolo Amalu, who joined the Lighthouse Service in 1906, became known as the “Dean of Hawaiian lighthouse keepers,” and served at Barbers Point Lighthouse from 1909 to 1913. He later became the keeper of the Kilauea Lighthouse, the northernmost lighthouse in Hawaii where, in 1927 with its radio beacon, guided the first transatlantic aviators to the islands. In a 1939 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, he said that being a “lighthouse keeper is a good job. I’m my own boss. A lighthouse keeper is master of all trades. He works with pick and shovel in the garden. He is a machinist to keep the timing mechanism of the light going. And he is a carpenter, painter, and engineer.”
Manuel Ferreira, a native of Maui, Hawaii, served as the keeper of seven lighthouses during his career, which began in 1908 with the U.S. Lighthouse Service and ended with his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1946. His career at Barbers Point Lighthouse was a short two years, serving there from 1914-1916. He was known as “one of the grand old men of Hawaiian lighthouse lore,” who was credited with numerous rescues. On February 28, 1995 the Coast Guard dedicated a new supply building on Sand Island, Honolulu Harbor, in his honor.
John M. Sweeney was the lighthouse keeper at Barbers Point Lighthouse on “a date which will live in infamy,” when on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes attacked Hawaii. In a communication dated several days later, Sweeney wrote, “At 8:00 a.m. many planes were seen overhead, both Japanese and ours. Dog fighting continued for twenty minutes, bullets hitting the ground in bursts . . . . Two parachutists were dropped close by the station; they were confused in the kiawi trees and prowled around the station all Sunday night. The Fort Kam, 55th C.A. boys firing at them with rifles and machine guns. One was wounded, and was later found on the beach, buried by his mate. His feet were sticking out of the sand. The other was later shot by an officer.”
Sweeney wrote that the Army boys were very nervous after that, and on two different occasions they thought that Japs were in the top of the tower and he had to go with them to take them up. After they escorted him back to the keeper’s house, they warned him not to leave the house as they would shoot at anything that moved.
Fred Robins Sr. was the son of veteran lighthouse keeper Edward E. Robins Jr. who was the keeper at Molokai Lighthouse and at Kauai Lighthouse until he retired in 1925. Fred’s grandfather, Edward E. Robbins Sr., had also been a lighthouse keeper. In 1922 when Fred Robins Sr. followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps in the Lighthouse Service, he had the distinction of being the youngest lighthouse keeper in the District. But after living at Barbers Point Lighthouse for two years, he decided that the location was much too isolated for a young man. He then went on to serve at Kauhloa Point Lighthouse, Kilauea Point Lighthouse, and Moloka’I Lighthouse. In 1939 when the Coast Guard took over the Lighthouse Service, Fred Robins Sr. joined the Coast Guard, and when World War II broke out, he served in several different units. After the war he went back to Molokai Lighthouse until he was transferred back to Barbers Point Lighthouse in 1953, where he served through December of 1964 when the lighthouse was automated.
On April 16, 1964 the Fresnel lens was removed from the tower and replaced with a 36” airway beacon. Apparently this was the same time when the lantern was removed from the tower, but photographs of the lantern being removed have remained elusive. In 1995 the airway beacon was removed from Barbers Point Lighthouse and replaced with a rotating DCB-224 optic.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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