PORT ISABEL — As a lifelong Rio Grande Valley resident, Valerie Barrientos of La Feria has long wanted to climb the historic steps of the Port Isabel Lighthouse.
It was still closed when she visited in September, at the tail-end of its restoration.
Barrientos, 25, got her chance to take in the 16-mile view from atop the lighthouse Tuesday, when visitors joined local and state officials to celebrate its grand reopening.
“I’ve always wanted to come,” Barrientos said. “I just think it’s great that they’re trying to preserve it.”
The lighthouse is Texas’ smallest state park, though its day-to-day operations are run by Port Isabel. It opened to the public Jan. 2, ending a 15-month closure.
“The lighthouse is a symbol of our city, it’s a symbol of our area, and it’s something people from the area hold very dear,” City Manager Jared Hockema said during the ceremony.
The more than $600,000 needed to replace its railing, repair the exterior and make improvements to the adjacent Keepers House was paid for by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Now, visitors will be able to walk on the exterior catwalk, which had been closed since 2014 due to deterioration.
Congress authorized funds to construct the lighthouse in 1851, and it was completed two years later. It stood through the Civil War and was decommissioned in 1905. It’s the only lighthouse on the Texas Gulf Coast open to the public.
Monica Burdette of the Texas Historical Commission traveled from Rockport for the occasion. As a native of Rio Grande City, the lighthouse holds a special place in her childhood memories during trips to South Padre Island.
“The welcome and familiar site of the Port Isabel Lighthouse was my family’s personal beacon that we were minutes from playing in the surf,” she said, noting the landmark’s status as a tourism draw.
During the event, Hockema thanked State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, for his role in moving the renovation process forward.
“No part of Texas illustrates (the state’s) rich history more than this lighthouse to me,” Oliveira said.