Wailuku was the home of Kahekili, Maui’s most powerful chief, who ruled Maui from 1736-1793.
WAILUKU, meaning ‘Water of Destruction’, was a center of power and population in pre-historic Hawai’i and the home of Kahekili (1706-1793), named after the God of Thunder, who reigned over Maui prior to Western contact. Kahekili’s kingdom extended to include all of the Hawaiian Islands except Hawai’i Island. Rumored to be the biological father of Kamehameha the Great, Kahekili paved the way for Kamehameha’s unification of Hawai’i. He maintained a court at the entrance to I’ao Valley at what is now the mauka [toward the mountain] area bounded by the corner of Main, High, and Vineyard Streets.
From the missionary era through the plantation era, and during the political shifts from Kingdom to State, Wailuku remained a most desirable place for its location, agricultural richness, and climate. In 1905, the Territorial Legislature designated Wailuku as Maui County’s seat of government. By 1920, Wailuku had become a bustling commercial and government center. Many homes and buildings in Wailuku date from that earlier heyday and offer a special glimpse into the past. Starting in the 1950s, with Kahului’s growth as Maui’s ‘new’ commercial center, began a progressive economic decline for Wailuku.
But today Maui Nui’s capital town is enjoying the results of on-going revitalization efforts, initiated in the 1980s with community, government, and stakeholder investment. Refurbished and new buildings along Market, Main and Vineyard Streets display Wailuku’s heritage. And anchored by the historic Iao Theatre, these plantation style and Art Deco structures now house many unique shops, restaurants and offices.