Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Structure

By: Alicia A. Garza

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 30, 2019

Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Structure is on State Highway 100 in Port Isabel, southeastern Cameron County. Construction of the lighthouse was contracted by the United States government on December 6, 1851, with actual work starting in February 1852. The brick lighthouse, had a light that consisted of four lamps on an iron platform. It was reported in 1854 that the lighthouse stood fifty-seven feet above the ground and eighty-two feet above sea level. The light was visible for sixteen miles and was produced by twenty-one reflectors and fifteen lamps. In 1857 the light was refitted with a short eclipse light, varied by flashes one minute apart. The lighthouse has been most used as an observation tower. The first time it was used as such was during the Cortina Wars (see CORTINA, JUAN N.), when there was some fear that Cortina would attack the customshouse. It next served as an observation tower during the Civil War, during which the Union and Confederate forces each had control over the area. Under Confederate control Col. John S. "Rip" Ford removed and buried the lenses and light. The equipment was never recovered, and the lighthouse was used only as an observation tower for the remainder of the war. On February 22, 1866, the lost equipment was replaced, and the lighthouse was again in use. It received a new iron lantern in 1881 and was fitted with new mineral-oil lamps and a new cistern in 1882. More repairs were made in 1887, when six plate-glass lights were added and a new 3,888-gallon cypress cistern was constructed. That year it was discovered that the United States government did not have title to the land, and the lighthouse was extinguished on May 15, 1888. Because the lighthouse was needed the government sought title to the land and acquired it in 1894. The lighthouse was permanently abandoned, as no longer needed, in 1905. On December 14, 1927, the government sold it to J. S. Ford of Brownsville. The lighthouse received a state historical marker in 1936. During the first and second world wars the lighthouse was used as an observation tower against possible enemy attacks. In 1950 Lon C. Hill III, his wife, Georgiana (Owsley), and the Port Isabel Realty Company donated the lighthouse and its associated buildings to the state as a historic site. The lighthouse was completely rehabilitated in 1952 by the Texas State Parks Board. The board remodeled the tower by replacing the iron platform with concrete and by raising the glass dome to provide easier access for visitors. Additional repair work by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was completed in 1970. In the early 1990s the tower with its mercury-vapor light was marked on sea charts as an aid to navigation.

T. Lindsay Baker, Lighthouses of Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Structure, Port Isabel, Texas: Preservation Plan and Program (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1984). Texas Highways, August 1971. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Alicia A. Garza, “Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Structure,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 13, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/port-isabel-lighthouse-state-historic-structure.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 30, 2019