The Padre Island Lighthouse

By Steve Hathcock

Today if a visitor to the Island wanted to explore an old lighthouse, they would need to make their way across the Laguna Madre to Point Isabel where they will find a perfectly preserved stone tower measuring some 80 feet in height. This structure sits in the center of Lighthouse Square and is surrounded by gift shops and restaurants and draws thousands of visitors each year. But Port Isabel has not always had a monopoly on lighthouses. Watch the Video

The earliest mention of a light on Padre Island was contained in an article carried in the 1853 issue of American Seamen’s Friend Society, a journal of the day devoted to the needs of the modern mariner. The editor described a new light that had been established on the southern end of Padre Island, and north of the Brazos Passage. Sailors Magazine

The light was placed atop a square tower constructed of wood, painted black, which sat atop wheels so that it could be moved about in much the same manner as the men of Troy moved the horse into the city. Because of its color it was easily distinguished from other objects by day. Its’ light could be seen 3.5 miles out to sea. The keeper’s house was located about a quarter mile from it.

Fresnel LensThe following year the tower received a 5th order Fresnel lens making its light 35 feet above sea level. It was used as an entrance light for Brazos Pass.

At the onset of the Civil War, the Confederates destroyed the Padre Island light. The Point Isabel light with its four foot thick walls resisted several attempts to blow it up. Not to be totally defeated in their effort to extinguish the powerful beacon, Confederate Rip Ford, ordered the removal of the lens which effectively neutralized any night use of the tower.

The lighthouse board established a temporary light on Padre Island in 1864 and immediately sought funding for a permanent tower. Ten years later a hurricane washed the wooden structure away and Congress appropriated $25,000 for a new tower.
Surprisingly it took 4 years for the Board to obtain the site, which was located just to the sbrazossantiagolight_houseouth of the present day Coast Guard Station, from the State of Texas. Construction of a frame dwelling on screw piles (to be called the Brazos Santiago Lighthouse) began in 1878. The keeper exhibited the light, which was perched above the living quarters on March 1, 1879.

That same year the board established a fixed light atop a square white tower 25 feet in height on the south side of Brazos Santiago. (This light was destroyed in a hurricane sometime in the 1880s.) But the Brazos Santiago Light was built of sturdier stuff and served the Laguna Madre area for many years to come. Surprisingly, it was not done-in by nature but rather by the carelessness of men.
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