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Vanishing lighthouses on the Texas coast

 
Vanishing lighthouses on the Texas coast
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ — Climb the stairs of the Port Isabel Lighthouse, which opened to the public in 1952 as a Texas State Park, and enjoy 360-degree views of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

In August, we challenged ourselves to visit all the surviving lighthouses of the original 16 that were built along the Texas Coast in the mid-1800s. Some still stand tall and strong in their original locations, others are only shells of their former glory. Our first trek was along the mid- to upper coast, from Galveston to the Louisiana state line, including the Port Bolivar Lighthouse near Galveston and the Sabine Pass Lighthouse, 35 miles southwest of Beaumont.

Our recent quest took us from Port Lavaca to the tip of Texas at Port Isabel.

Port Lavaca

The Half Moon Reef Lighthouse was built in 1858 on the shoals off Palacios Point in Matagorda Bay, 2 miles from the mainland, and never looked like a typical lighthouse. After weathering storms for more than 85 years, including destructive hurricanes in 1875 and 1919, the hurricane of 1942 was the last straw for this beautiful structure. Bill Bauer and Henry Smith purchased the lighthouse and moved it inland, with the plan to use it as quarters for a night watchman for their dredging business in Point Comfort. The lighthouse was moved for a second time 36 years later, in 1978, across the Matagorda Causeway and donated to the Calhoun County Historical Commission, along with a trust fund for future maintenance. The lighthouse now is a fixture in the Port Lavaca Community Park, where it can be seen today at the intersection of Texas 35 and Texas 238.

Aransas Pass

Lydia Ann Lighthouse near Aransas Pass was built in 1855; the octagonal brick tower stands 68 feet tall. After the light was discontinued in 1954, the property sat empty until 1973, when Charles Butt (of H-E-B grocery stores) purchased the property. Mr. Butt had extensive research done on the lighthouse and restored it, along with the light keeper’s house, and hired light keepers. In 1989, the lighthouse came back to life with its relighting as a “privately-owned aid to navigation.”

This lighthouse was a little difficult to find. We finally spotted it on the horizon as we were driving on the causeway (Texas 361) toward the ferry landing. The ferry connects Aransas Pass to Port Aransas on Mustang Island. We backtracked through some small dirt roads, trying to get a better view. It sits on an island with no road access. We understand that you can get a nice view of the lighthouse from the upper deck of Virginia’s on the Bay Restaurant in Port Aransas.

Port Isabel

Port Isabel Lighthouse is by far the most accessible of the old lighthouses on the Texas Coast. It is located in Port Isabel, just before the Queen Isabella Causeway that takes you to South Padre Island. It is impressive, standing on a knoll 25 feet above sea level and towering another 57 feet from the base of the lighthouse. Port Isabel Lighthouse, completed in 1853, survived the Civil War and hurricanes. It was deactivated in 1905 and fell into neglect until the Texas State Parks Board provided funds for restoration in 1947. It was dedicated as a Texas State Park and opened to the public in 1952.

The best part is that you can climb to the top of the lighthouse via a steep and narrow spiral staircase for spectacular 360-degree views of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. There is a small fee to enter the lighthouse and to visit the museum.

What an opportunity for us to experience and record another testimonial for the enormous contributions that these lighthouses made. The economic impact that the lighthouses provided the shipping industry goes without saying. The ability to successfully deliver the materials and products that our fledgling country needed in the 1800s made commerce an important ingredient for a growing nation.

What these lighthouses did for the sailors out at sea cannot be quantified. Imagine the sense of relief when they saw the rotating lights that would guide them to a safe harbor after a long and treacherous voyage.

Plan a visit

Port Isabel Lighthouse

956-943-2262

www.portisabellighthouse.com/lighthouse/

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.

 
 
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