Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

On Walkabout At: Fort Elizabeth on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai

Basic Information

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Narrative

Located right outside of the small town of Waimea on the west shore of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, is one of the more unusual sites in Hawaiian history.  This site is an old Russian military fortification known as Fort Elizabeth:

Fort Elizabeth was one of three Russian forts built on Kauai with the other two forts, Fort Alexander and Fort Barclay built on the North Shore to control access to the Hanalei River.  Fort Elizabeth was strategically built to control access to the Waimea River on the island’s west coast.  Here is a picture of the Waimea River adjacent to the fort with the modern day highway bridge crossing over it into the village of Waimea:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Though it was built to be a Russian military base, Fort Elizabeth never actually saw any Russians soldiers.  It was built by a German named Georg Anton Schaeffer who was an agent for the Russian-American Company.

Georg Anton Schaeffer

Before the fort’s construction in 1815 Schaeffer met with the King of Hawaii, King Kamehameha I about a shipment of the company’s goods seized on Kauai.  At the time Kauai’s King Kaumualii was rebelling against Kamehameha’s rule and Schaeffer was not able to get the King to do anything about the seized goods.  So Schaeffer sailed to Kauai with two of the company’s ships to meet with Kaumualii.  Much to Schaeffer’s surprise he was able to get Kaumualii to agree to return the goods by promising that the Czar of Russia would support Kauai’s independence from Kamehameha’s rule.  Kaumualii even helped Schaeffer to build the forts that were armed with cannons to protect the harbors used by the company’s ships.

1817 illustration of Fort Elizabeth via Wikipedia.

Fort Elizabeth which began construction in 1817 was named after the Czarina of Russia and was planned to become an important provisioning station for the company.  Schaeffer even had a Russian Orthodox church built in the middle of it.   However, by the Fall of 1817 Kaumualii was notified by the Russian government that Schaeffer did not have the backing of the Russian Czar like he claimed.  Kaumualii forced the Russian-American Company to leave the fort and Schaeffer went back to Europe where he faced legal action from the Russian-American Company due to his Hawaiian escapades.  Schaeffer would eventually escape legal consequences and resurfaced in Brazil where he was responsible for recruiting German immigrants to the country.  Fort Elizabeth on the other hand would go on to be garrisoned by Hawaiian troops.  Hawaiian troops loyal to King Kamehameha would garrison the fort until 1864 when it was decided by the Hawaiian monarchy to dismantle the forts.  Fort Elizabeth’s cannons were sold off for scrap metal and the fort abandoned.  Today the site is preserved as the Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park.  Entry to the park is free where visitors can walk around and see the decrepit walls that was once a mighty fort:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

The walls are little more than piles of volcanic rock today overgrown with weeds:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

A short walk from the parking lot takes visitors into the middle of the fort:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

It is in the middle of the fort where the few buildings would have been located to include the Russian Orthodox church.  Today all that stands in the middle of the fort is this Russian flag with an emblem of the Russian-American Company on it:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

This is the flag that the Russian-American Company flew on their ships back in the 1800’s:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Here is the view from standing on one of the walls looking back towards the center of the fort where the remains of a few stone structures can still be seen:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Here is the view looking in the opposite direction towards the mouth of the Waimea River:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

From the wall I walked down to where the Waimea River meets the ocean:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Due to the dry weather, the river was little more than a trickle where it entered into the ocean.  I then walked along the beach and noticed this old stone pier that was likely used by small boats to access the fort:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Also from the beach I could see Kauai’s Forbidden Island of Niihau off in the distance:

Picture from Ft. Elizabeth on Kauai

Conclusion

After spending a short time walking along the beach I then walked back to the parking lot in order to drive into Waimea to get lunch.  The stop at Fort Elizabeth made for an interesting hour long stop that allowed me to learn a little bit about a strange incident in Kauai’s history while taking in some nice views of the area.  Plus the park has a public restroom and I really need to use it anyway.  The fort is not a must see location for anyone touring Kauai, but for those who do have the time it is worth stopping by Fort Elizabeth and see this curious historical relic of Hawaiian history for themselves.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *