AUSTIN— Standing tall in a plaza overlooking the lower Laguna Madre, the historic 72-foot Port Isabel Lighthouse is reopening its doors to visitors after much needed repairs closed the site to the public in early 2016.
“As the only accessible lighthouse in Texas, we are very excited to reopen the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site and give it back to the people of Port Isabel and Texas,” said Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks. “Our priority is the safety of our visitors and we know that these repairs will help keep the lighthouse open for many generations of Texans to enjoy.”
The maintenance the lighthouse underwent is the latest phase of restoration scheduled for the site. Repairs included the replacement of the exterior hand railings, stucco repair, paint, repair of three casement windows, replacement of a glass panel on the lantern, new wood doors at the lantern level, repair of a roof leak and the repainting of the exposed exterior iron surfaces at the watch room level.
The repairs to this important site would not have been possible without the valued partnership between the city of Port Isabel and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“The lighthouse is the symbol of Port Isabel, and we are grateful for the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife in maintaining this historic structure, which anchors our downtown district,” said Jared Hockema, city manager for the city of Port Isabel. “Although the Port Isabel Lighthouse is the smallest site in the Texas State Park system, it has a large impact on our community and the surrounding area, bringing in thousands of visitors each year. The City of Port Isabel has had a successful partnership with TPWD for many years, and we look forward to continuing it.”
Authorized by U.S. Congress in 1850, the Port Isabel Lighthouse was built for $7,000 in efforts to aid navigation for booming maritime trade on the lower Texas coast. Lit for the first time in 1853, the lighthouse spent the next seven years guiding American, European and Mexican ships to the blossoming Brazos Santiago port. By the end of the decade, $10 million worth of cotton exports passed through Port Isabel annually.
During the Civil War, the lighthouse was used as a lookout for both Union and Confederate occupying forces. The lighthouse sustained bomb damage during the war and its lenses were removed. The lenses remain missing to this day.
On Feb. 22, 1866, the lighthouse was rehabilitated, refitted and relit. However, 10 years later it was dilapidated.
In 1881, the lantern area was reconstructed to raise the level of the light and add a watch room floor with iron gallery. Six years later, the lighthouse board recommended that the Port Isabel Light Station be abandoned due to decreasing commerce in the port.
The lighthouse board soon reconsidered its decision and in 1889 Congress voted to re-establish the light. Six years later, the lighthouse was relit in July 1895. With the heyday of maritime trade ending, the light was permanently discontinued 10 years later.
The Texas State Parks Board acquired the property in 1950 and after rehabilitation to the structure the lighthouse was reopened to the public April 25, 1952.
Since then, generations of Texans have climbed to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy the view of the Gulf of Mexico from this historic structure.
For more information about the site, visit the Port Isabel State Historic Site park page on the TPWD website.