Hale Pa‘ahao (stuck-in-irons house) was Lahaina’s “new” prison in the 1850s. During the peak of the whaling era, as you can imagine, the small village of Lahaina was rampant with rowdy sailors who were ready for fun and relaxation along with villagers who were willing to play and trade with them.
Under the wary eyes of missionaries and town officials, Lahaina saw a growing need to control the actions of the whalers and house the ones who were no longer “guests” of the government. In 1851, “an Act relating to prisons, their government, and discipline” was passed by the legislature and approved by the King. It authorized a new jail for Lahaina which was to be built to “keep entirely separate from each other the male and female prisoners, and to have a yard enclosed by fences of sufficient height and strength to prevent escapes …”
This new prison was to replace the small jail located under the Old Fort on the waterfront. So in 1852, the fort was razed for its thick coral blocks that would be used to surround the prison yard. The imposing wall at the corner of today’s Prison and Waine‘e Streets is several feet deep and high.
When the prison was finished in 1853, a two-story wooden gatehouse stood between the walls, which also served as the warden’s home. In the yard, were two wooden jail cell buildings, one for men and another for women. Inside each were a row of cells, or rooms, complete with wall shackles (irons) and restraints for difficult prisoners.
Lahaina Prison was used mainly to detain sailors for short periods of time, when they got too drunk, if they jumped ship or rode recklessly on horseback through town. At night, they were shackled in their cells … but by day for the first few years, prisoners were allowed to mingle on the green, smoke cheroots, play cards and have food brought in to them. Prisoners who had families in town received meals, which were often shared with the sailors. Usually within 24 hours, a captain would come to claim his crew and pay the bounty.
By the end of 1857, new Prison Rules & Regulations were in place, which were much more strict and regularly enforced by the jailer and warden. During the 1930s, County of Maui sponsored reconstruction of the cells and stockade by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In 1967, Lahaina Restoration Foundation presented to Maui Historical Commission a plan for restoring the old prison. It detailed how to preserve the prison yard wall and rebuild the wooden buildings with proper historical and archaeological research. In a public-private partnership, Hale Pa‘ahao was then transformed from a collapsing ruin to an enjoyable outdoor museum and botanical garden.