PORT ISABEL — At the center of this coastal community stands not only a symbol of its past, but also a reflection of its impact in the present day.
From surrounding businesses such as bars, shops and restaurants to community activities, the lighthouse in Port Isabel is described by many as a hub of the area’s economic development.
Yesterday, the city of Port Isabel and the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce co-hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Texas Historical Commission in celebration of the agencies’ new stewardship of the lighthouse.
Formerly operated under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the lighthouse was officially transferred to the Texas Historical Commission in early September.
“When we were under the Texas Parks and Wildlife, we were the smallest park in Texas and now we’re the only lighthouse the THC has,” City Manager Jared Hockema said with a smile during yesterday’s ceremony. “I’m sure others would say differently, but we feel we’re the jewel of the THC so we’re glad and proud to have them here.”
Texas Historical Commission Executive Director Mark Wolfe described the lighthouse as one of the greatest artifacts in Texas that represents the nautical history of the state.
“When you think about the history of Texas, a lot of people think about longhorns, cattle trails and cowboys,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the importance of the nautical history in Texas and that’s the reason why we continue to have the fabulous economy that we have.”
Aside from the transfer of ownership, there will hardly be any changes made to the operations of the lighthouse.
“We signed a memorandum of agreement with the city of Port Isabel that is virtually identical to the one that was in place with parks and wildlife,” he said. “So, visitors shouldn’t see any difference in the way they’re treated when they arrive here.”
Wolfe said he would love to have a glass prismatic lens placed in the lighthouse again.
“The lens was removed a long time ago and there’s been many decades without one,” he said. “So, that’s our hope.”
The THC has already added the idea to their list of projects and have made inquiries about possibly borrowing a historic lens or having a replica made by a lens manufacturer.
“We’re very happy to be a part of this property,” Wolfe said. “I think the work that’s gone into it in the past has all been really well done and I’m excited about working with the city in the future to enhance things here.”
What led to the transfer?
The Texas Legislature has a process called the Sunset Review of Agencies periodically once every 12 years and began its most recent review in 2017.
Texas state Rep. Chris Paddie, Sen. Brian Birdwell and Sen. Dawn Buckingham filed two companion bills earlier this year in the Texas House and Senate as a result of the review.
In addition to the Port Isabel Lighthouse, six other historical sites — including Battleship Texas, Fanthorp Inn, Fort Leaton, Lipantitlan Monument Hill, San Jacinto Battleground and Washington-on-the-Brazos — were transferred to the Texas Historical Commission in September.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The Port Isabel Lighthouse was built in 1852 to guide ships through the Brazos Santiago Pass to Port Isabel.
• It closed in 1864 due to the Civil War.
• It re-opened in the 1870s.
• It has been used as a tourist attraction since 1905.
• It was declared a Texas State Park in 1952.
• It is the only Texas lighthouse open to the public.
Source: Museums of Port Isabel