Sabine Pass Lighthouse

 

 

PHOTO30.JPG (19085 bytes)

 

 

FOR 95 YEARS THIS LIGHTHOUSE KEPT WATCH OVER SEAMEN
By Carolyn Thibodeaux

The Sabine Pass Lighthouse is a sentinel of the past">

Sabine Pass Lighthouse

 

 

PHOTO30.JPG (19085 bytes)

 

 

FOR 95 YEARS THIS LIGHTHOUSE KEPT WATCH OVER SEAMEN
By Carolyn Thibodeaux

The Sabine Pass Lighthouse is a sentinel of the past, rising 85 feet above sea level, surrounded by marsh recesses that mark the terrain of extreme southwest Cameron Parish. To visitors passing through on Highway 82 between Johnson Bayou, La., and Port PHOTO33.JPG (13886 bytes)Arthur, Texas, the abandoned lighthouse is perhaps the most impressive landmark.

After giving 95 years of continuous light to the world’s seamen, it sits sightless and abandoned. Far from forgotten, though, it is the object of affection of a newly formed group, the Cameron Preservation Alliance _ Sabine Pass Lighthouse, Inc. The goal is to restore, preserve and maintain the history of Cameron Parish. Preserving this lighthouse is the first project of the new group.

Sam Houston, who served as governor of Texas and U. S. Senator from Texas, was instrumental in raising monies necessary for lighthouses through legislation in Washington, D.C., in 1851. As one of Texas’s first senators, he quickly introduced legislation to raise money for lighthouses and inland waterways.

lighthouse2This site was chosen because the elevation is higher on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River and this property was part of the Port Sabine Military Reservation.

Constructed of brick from New Jersey, starting in 1854, the lighthouse was built on a mud bank only three feet above high tide. It features an octagonal shaped tower. Its eight buttresses were built at the base to help keep it steady in the soft marshy ground. The buttresses look like fins, giving the tower a look of some kind of stone-age rocket about to blast off. The buttresses succeeded in their purpose; the tower still appears as straight as ever.

 

The light, first fired with whale oil, began operation in 1857.  The light played a vital role in the Battle of Sabine Pass in the Civil War in 1862 and was instrumental in stopping Texas from being invaded, saving it from military devastation, which other Southern states experienced.  The light has survived several hurricanes. A severe storm in 1886 whipped up an 8-foot tide that surroundedPHOTO36.JPG (14520 bytes) the tower with 5 feet of water. Every building except the lighthouse with its 18-inch thick walls and its 8 buttresses were destroyed. A new elevated lighthouse keeper’s house was built in 1887.

The Galveston hurricane in 1900 affected the lighthouse. A hurricane in 1915 forced the keepers to turn the revolving lens by hand when tower vibrations put the clockwork out of order. In 1957 Hurricane Audrey dislodged the lighthouse but the structure remained sound. It shined for the final time in 1952, and citizens of Sabine Pass, Texas, gathered to watch and mourn a part of their lives.

The lighthouse was doomed to be torn down when keeper Steve Purley started a successful movement to save it. It was not destroyed nor was it saved but passed on to several holders in Louisiana and Texas, with never money enough to save this property.

 

A Butress as it meets the shell foundation.

PHOTO37.JPG (25295 bytes)PHOTO42.JPG (19464 bytes) PHOTO43.JPG (18440 bytes)

In bad need of repair, the genator house is one of the last standing buildings.

 

In 1974 the copper top was stolen, and in 1976 a marsh fire destroyed the keeper’s house.

It was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 17, 1982. In 1986 the General Service Administration declared the property to be surplus and auctioned the lighthouse and its 46-acre tract of land. Houston businessmen P. G. Grenader and W. C. Pielop, Jr. purchased it; now deceased, their heirs own the property.

Until July, 1999, the lighthouse was mainly accessible by boat. Landowners Butch and Hilda Crain were instrumental in constructing a one- lane dirt road leading to the lighthouse, accessible today only during certain road conditions.

The preservation group has taken steps to start the renovation, enlisting the help of architects Randy and Lauren Broussard, who have involved McNeese State University in an engineering study.

Historian Bill Quick from Nederland, Texas, is the driving force of the Alliance to ensure that this project is done in a timely manner. “We must remember that the lighthouse is on our watch now,” Quick says. “It is the oldest thing standing for many miles.”

The first Sabine Pass Lighthouse Hayride took place on Oct. 21 of 2000, and current owners have promised to turn over the ownership early in 2,001, which will enable the Alliance to get grants more quickly. Phase One is to stabilize the lighthouse and provide a blacktopped road to make it more accessible. Phase Two will be to rebuild the keeper’s quarters, which will provide a maritime museum and gift shop.

 

PHOTO40.JPG (12265 bytes) Photo from the 2000 Hayride

Anyone who has a romance with lighthouses is invited to join the Alliance to save this era of the past, which can never be replaced. Contact Carolyn Thibodeaux at 337-775-5821 or write P. O. Box 736, Cameron, La., 70631.

All images and text are copyrighted.   No unauthorized use without permisssion.  George Payne & Carolyn Thibodeaux 2001