Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site

History

Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site consists of .9 acre in Port Isabel, Cameron County. The park was acquired by purchase from private owners, Lon C. Hill and the Port Isabel Realty Company, in 1950 and was opened to the public in 1952. In September 1996, a $320,000 Visitors Center was completed and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department turned over the daily operation of Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historical Park to the city of Port Isabel, according to a 1993 agreement. While the operation and daily maintenance of the lighthouse and Visitors Center transfers to the city, Texas Parks and Wildlife retains ownership of the state park and will be responsible for any major repairs.

In the 1800s, the low-lying Texas coast made charting a seagoing course extremely difficult, and a number of captains requested that something be done. The Port Isabel Lighthouse was constructed in 1852, near sites of the Civil War Battle of Palmito Ranch (1865) and Mexican War battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.

The old Texas lighthouses declined in importance over the years. Newer towers with more powerful fixtures were built at the turn of the century, and the Depression years meant that less money was available for keeping the lighthouses lit. The emergence of railroads provided a direct link between Corpus Christi and the interior of Mexico, and this meant less commercial shipping. As a result, the Port Isabel light was extinguished in 1905. The lighthouse fell into neglect until the Texas State Parks Board provided funds for restoration in 1947. Dedicated as a state park in 1952, the historic landmark has become a popular tourist attraction.

The restoration of the 72-foot lighthouse was completed in 2000. The lighthouse was returned to the appearance it had following its last major operational renovation in 1880. The restoration project involved extensive metal casting and fabrication, masonry and structural repairs, new coatings and site development.

Visitors Center:  The center is a replica of the original lighthouse keeper's cottage and surrounding decorative fence. The Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce staffs the site, and has its offices here. The building also includes restrooms and maintenance facilities and houses an interpretive exhibit highlighting the history of the lighthouse and the old Fort Polk site it occupies.


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