Project aims to stabilize, restore Civil War-era Sabine Pass Lighthouse

A witness to history, the 1857 Sabine Pass Lighthouse stands sentinel at the point where the Sabine River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Rising 75-feet above coastal marsh land, the brick tower, located in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, has survived a half-dozen hurricanes, including monsters Audrey and Rita.

Six brick buttresses form its unique octagonal foundation, erected on a bed of shell. Designed and built by Captain Leadbetter, it’s considered to be a “sister” lighthouse to Aransas Pass, Timbalier and Barataria towers. Later painted with black and white stripes, the markings have all but worn away, faded by the elements.

In 1886, a storm created an 8-foot tide, which surrounded the tower with five feet of water, destroying all the buildings at the site, except for the lighthouse itself, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The lighthouse originally featured a third order, Fresnel lens, which was dismantled and crated in January 1862 for storage during the Civil War. Records indicate the lens was damaged during an attack by Union forces in April 1863.

Sabine Pass lighthouse photograph 2
Sabine Pass Lighthouse (Photo source: U.S. National Archives)

Another powerful hurricane in 1915 created vibration in the tower, affecting the order of the clockworks. Keepers were forced to turn the revolving lens by hand.

After serving as a guide to passing ships for nearly a century, the Sabine Pass Lighthouse was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1952. A marsh fire later destroyed the wharfs, keeper’s house and wooden outbuilding, which stood adjacent to the lighthouse. The brick support piers are all that remain.

In the 1970s, vandals stripped the copper dome atop the tower, according to the Cameron Preservation Alliance. The original cast-iron spiral staircase provided access to the lantern room until Hurricane Ike moved through the region in 2008, causing the eroding metal to collapse.

It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

A group of dedicated residents and volunteers have formed the Cameron Preservation Alliance, which aims to repair and preserve the Sabine Pass Lighthouse for future generations. The organization took ownership of the structure in 2001 and is currently raising funds in order to survey and stabilize the lighthouse, improve access to the remote site, repair masonry throughout the lighthouse, repair and re-cast the watch room and roof, and replace the spiral stairs.

Ultimately the alliance plans to repair the outbuildings and build a museum to illustrate the lighthouse’s history. A website, along with Facebook and Instagram pages, feature regular updates, as well as feature stunning images snapped by visitors. The U.S. Coast Guard has also compiled a list of the 45 men and women who served as keepers of the Sabine Pass lighthouse, beginning with Benjanmin Granger in 1857 and ending with Steven Purgley at the time of its decommissioning.

About $2.25 million will need to be raised to complete the restornation project. Donations can be made through the Sabine Pass Lighthouse GoFundMe page.

A private access road off Louisiana Highway 82 would provide the closest access to the area near the lighthouse, however, visitors can easily see the tower from across the Sabine River on the Texas side of the state line. The lighthouse is visible from the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site and along South 1st Avenue.

The Sabine Pass Lighthouse is located at coordinates 29°42’59.5″N 93°51’00.6″W.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Raycom Media.  They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2017 Lane Luckie

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