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May 17, 2004
Renovated Matagorda Island Lighthouse Shines Again
PORT O’CONNOR, Texas — A Matagorda Island beacon that guided ships along Texas’ mid-coast before the U.S. Civil War is again lighting the way for modern mariners thanks to the recent completion of a $1.23 million overhaul of the state’s oldest operational lighthouse.
Federal, state and county officials will gather at 11 a.m., Friday, June 11 at the base of the Matagorda Island Lighthouse to dedicate the renovated cast iron structure that had become compromised during more than a century of being subjected to the harsh Gulf Coast elements.
It took a little more than a year to complete the repair project that 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 at the site that is within the boundaries of Matagorda Island State Park.
The 92-foot tall, charcoal-colored lighthouse is actually the second such structure to be built on the eastern tip of the barrier island overlooking Pass Cavallo that leads from the gulf into Matagorda Bay. 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 two 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 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 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 the past two months while repairs to the top of the lighthouse were completed.
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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