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Vanishing lighthouses of the Texas coast

 
Vanishing lighthouses of the Texas coast
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ You have to cross the Sabine River into Louisiana to get to the Sabine Pass Lighthouse, completed in 1856.

During the mid 1800s and into the early 1900s, the heyday of constructing magnificent lighthouses to protect sailing vessels, the Texas coast was not overlooked. A total of seven lighthouses were built between Port Isabel and Port Arthur, Texas. They were tall, majestic, and intriguing, with their rotating beacons piercing the night sky to the sailors’ delight.

Of the seven lighthouses built along the Texas coastline, only five still are standing. We visited the Point Bolivar Lighthouse, then got a view of the Sabine Pass Lighthouse, and finally saw the remains of the Sabine Bank Lighthouse at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.

Point Bolivar

The first Bolivar Peninsula Lighthouse was constructed in 1852. During the Civil War, Confederate troops dismantled the tower and used the iron structure to make cannon balls and mini-balls for rifles.

In 1873, a new 116-foot-tall lighthouse was built at Point Bolivar. It was constructed of the same type of cast-iron plates as the original lighthouse, but the new one had a brick lining inside the tower. Its 52,000-candlepower beacon was powered by kerosene.

Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in Texas. The Port of Galveston was the entry point for many European immigrants entering the United States, as well as the leading U.S. port for exporting cotton and wheat. The Imperial Sugar Co. had its beginning on the docks in Galveston, importing sugar from Cuba. For 60 years, the Bolivar Lighthouse guided ships through the channel and into the Port of Galveston. The once white-and-black-banded exterior now appears to be solid black.

This lighthouse withstood the hurricane of 1900 that devastated most of Galveston Island. Not only did it remain intact, it also served as a shelter for more than 100 people during the “Great Storm.” The two houses immediately adjacent to the lighthouse were built for the lighthouse keeper and his two assistants.

The Bolivar Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1933 and was replaced by the South Jetty Light. In 1947, the government sold the lighthouse and the surrounding property for $5,500. The lighthouse remains privately owned and not open to the public. However, it is possible to get some great pictures of it.

To get there, take the free ferry from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula; it is a beautiful 20-minute ride. Once underway, get out of your car and enjoy the scenery as you approach Bolivar; the lighthouse can be seen from the ferry. When you exit the ferry, continue on Highway 87 for a short distance. As you pass the lighthouse, take the next left on Highway 106 (Seventh Street) and then another left on Everett. At the end of this short road, there will be a closed gate and enough room for a turnaround. This is as close as you can get to the lighthouse for photos. If you are lucky enough to be there just before sunset, the view from Highway 87 is magnificent.

Sabine Pass

The Sabine Pass Light-house was a little harder to find. The lighthouse actually sits on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River, across from Sabine Pass. The light has been removed, and only the shell remains. The best view we could find was from the Sabine Pass Battleground, a public park near the Coast Guard Station on Dick Dowling Road.

Completed in 1856 at a cost of $30,000, it was first illuminated in 1857. Traffic increased sharply after the Spindletop oil discovery near Beaumont in 1901, marking the birth of the modern petroleum industry in Texas. By 1921, the importance of this lighthouse was diminished and, in 1952, the light was extinguished for the last time. Over the years, there has been fear of the lighthouse collapsing, but it still stands rock solid.

Sabine Bank

Sabine Bank is a shoal (sandbar) that lies 20 feet below the water surface in the Gulf of Mexico, 16 miles south of the entrance of Sabine River. A lighthouse was needed to warn deep-drafted vessels sailing into Port Arthur. It was built on land and assembled in place. The lighthouse was completed in 1906.

The lighthouse keepers had to live in the lighthouse; the area was remote, in open water, and storms were a threat. Staffing was a continual problem, and after only 17 years, the light was automated. Therefore, there was no longer a need for a lighthouse keeper.

In 2001, the lighthouse was demolished; the top section was refurbished and moved to Lions Park in Sabine Pass. The lens now resides in the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.

Lighthouses evoke thoughts of adventure and long-ago times at sea. They give us a sense of romance and they are certainly a delight to look at. The vanishing lighthouses of the Texas Coast, intriguing icons that they are, continue to inspire us today.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Find out more

•Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, 6100 Dick Dowling Road, Port Arthur, TX 77640; 512-463-7948; www.visitspb.com

•Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter St., Port Arthur, TX 77640; 409-982-7000; admission $2 - $4; www.museumofthegulfcoast.org

 
 
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