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Matagorda Lighthouse Shines Again

This historic beacon resumes its watch over Pass Cavallo.

By Rob McCorkle

The Matagorda Island Lighthouse, which once guided ships along midcoast of Texas before the Civil War, is again shining. On June 11, state and federal officials dedicated the state’s oldest operational lighthouse after the completion of a year-long, $1.23 million overhaul.

After more than a century of being subjected to the harsh Gulf Coast weather, the 92-foot tall, cast-iron structure had become compromised. The repairs included rebuilding and shoring up the base, repainting the entire lighthouse and replacing the light room at the top. In addition, sidewalks and a restroom were added. The lighthouse is situated within Matagorda Island State Park on the eastern tip of the barrier island overlooking Pass Cavallo, which leads from the gulf into Matagorda Bay.

The charcoal-colored lighthouse is actually the second such structure to be built there. The original lighthouse, known as the Matagorda Light Station, was erected in 1852, but suffered extensive damage in the early 1860s when Confederate troops removed its Fresnel lens and tried to destroy the tower when they abandoned Fort Esperanza. What remained of the old structure was dismantled and a new lighthouse erected in 1873 using the same iron plates 2 miles inland, away from the eroding shoreline.

“The renovation of the lighthouse wouldn’t have been possible without a federal grant secured through the Texas Department of Transportation and private donations raised by the Matagorda Island Foundation,” said John Stuart, manager of Matagorda Island State Park. “The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Calhoun County also helped make this unique public-private partnership work.”

Park visitors will not be able to climb the stairs inside the lighthouse for liability reasons, Stuart said, but they will be allowed to peer inside through a ground-floor door. A private ferry operating under contract to the state shuttles park visitors between the mainland and Matagorda Island.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will work with the county and the foundation to educate visitors about the rich history of the island, as well as its unique natural resources. Calhoun County will handle lighthouse maintenance.

In 1999, TPWD installed a new rotating, flashing light, a solar-powered marine lantern, that can be seen up to 10 miles away. The lighthouse, which the U.S. Coast Guard had deactivated in 1995, was relit at the stroke of midnight of the new millennium, but had been out of commission during the last 2 months of the renovation.

Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area occupies 43,893 acres on the northern two-thirds of the 38-mile-long island. USFWS manages 11,500 acres on the southwestern tip of the island. There is no bridge connecting the island to the mainland: The only way to get to the state park is by boat. Overnight facilities on the island are minimal but accommodating, consisting of a primitive beach campground for tent campers and two sets of converted former military barracks for group camping.

The state park headquarters is located in Port O’Connor at the intersection of 16th Street and Intracoastal Canal. For more information about Matagorda Island State Park, call (361) 983-2215.

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