Magazine article Sea Classics

Texas, Lighthouses

Magazine article Sea Classics

Texas, Lighthouses

Article excerpt

"Lighthouses of Texas" by T. Lindsay Baker, is a handsome 111/4" x 11-1/4" book with documentary photographs of lighthouses that were built to protect navigation along the Gulf Coast of that State. Nine paintings of some of the structures and two of lightships by Harold Phenix adorn this second edition from the Texas A&M University Press.

When this writer obtained a copy it was thought that it would be a piece of cake to review the publication. To acquaint myself with the project I depended on a file drawer full of clippings pertaining to lighthouses of this country. To my amazement I had but two about Texas lighthouses. I learned, however, that books about lighthouses along the New England, Atlantic, Florida and West Coasts and the Great Lakes dating back into the last century were available. Baker's book fills a void.

I did find in my collection of Texas Highway magazines (issues of September 1978, and February 1989) some articles by Bob Parvin and Elizabeth Lewis, which did give me some background information. However, I could not understand that the book, "Texas: A Guide to the Lone Star State," a Works Progress Administration publication (1940) and its 1969 revised edition overlooked these important beacons that stretched between the Mexican and

Louisiana borders.

The first chapter of Baker's book is a history of the lighthouses of Texas. More than that it gives the reader the background of the Lighthouse Service and its organization of the Ninth Lighthouse District with Galveston as its headquarters. Thirteen pages of bibliography attest to the dedication Baker gave to his project. He spent four years on the research required for "Lighthouses of Texas," including an entire month of work in the National Archives, repository for the official records of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He is the director of the Texas Heritage Museum at Hill County College in Hillsboro, Texas.

The once thriving gulf port of Indianola is mentioned in connection with the Matagorda lighthouse which on a map in the book is the fourth beacon north of the Port Isabel lighthouse which overlooks Laguna Madre and Brazos Santiago Pass.

The Matagorda Island lighthouse was one of the first two erected in 1852. It is 105 feet high and marks the entrance to Pass Cavallo. Foundation problems beset the structure soon after its erection. There were complaints that the light was not visible enough and the tower was reconstructed with an additional 24 feet. By 1859 some of the problems had been solved. However, with the Civil War the lights along the Texas shore were extinguished as they were considered navigational aids for Union ships. Furthermore, the Confederates damaged the structures as a way to hamper any quick rebuilding.

Baker's thoroughness shows up with each story about the lights. He must have talked with keepers or members of their families about living conditions and the work associated with keeping the lighthouses. The 1867 report for Matagorda revealed that the keepers enjoyed "supplemental foods" - fish, oysters, ducks and geese - which were plentiful. The son of a keeper recalled birdhunting with his father. In 1929 the keeper requested medicine to care for snake bites.

Matagorda's light survived the hurricanes that hit the coast. However, the storm of 13-14 September 1919, was maintained throughout those two days. Keeper William H. Heinroth was commended by the Bureau of Lighthouses, not only for sticking to his post, but also for caring for the crew from a nearby Coast Guard life saving station. …

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