Day Trips: Port Isabel Lighthouse, Port Isabel
Keeping the lights on after almost two centuries on the Gulf Coast
By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., March 31, 2023
The Port Isabel Lighthouse still stands guard over the waters of the Laguna Madre after 171 years. The signal tower is more of a navigational device to motorists crossing the Queen Isabella Causeway than to mariners accessing the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Last November, the Texas Historical Commission, custodians of the lighthouse for the state, installed a functioning replica Third Order Fresnel lens in the tower's lantern room. Not only is the lens historically accurate, but it is the first time in 117 years that the lighthouse was equipped with a beacon.
According to Valerie Bates with the city of Port Isabel, the 1,000-watt beacon will be dimmed to 60 to 125 watts and will be non-rotating except on special occasions. "It will still be visible, but not be a distraction to maritime and vehicular traffic," she said.
Standing on a 50-foot mound overlooking the Queen Isabella Causeway, the second-longest bridge in Texas, this is the only lighthouse open to the public.
Built in 1852 to protect shipping through the Brazos Santiago Pass at the southern end of Padre Island, the brick and stucco lighthouse was decommissioned in 1905. It became a state park in 1952 and was transferred to THC in 2019. Visitors can explore the exhibits in the Keeper's Cottage on the grounds and climb the 72-foot tower for expansive views of the coast.
The Port Isabel Lighthouse is in Port Isabel on Highway 100 at the causeway connecting to South Padre Island. The Texas historic site is open to visitors daily from 9am to 6pm; summer hours are 10am-9pm. Admission is $3 to $5. Access to the top is by 75 winding stairs and three short ladders. For more information, go to thc.texas.gov/historic-sites.
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