Port Isabel Lighthouse With Vintage South Padre Island Pictures From the 1960s
The following question was posed by Gail Sobotkin a HubPage writer known as happyboomernurse."What's your favorite lighthouse and why is it your favorite?"
This question brought back a flood of memories for me.
While I have seen other lighthouses and even much prettier ones on various vacation trips, the Port Isabel Lighthouse has to be put at the top of the list as to being a favorite because of the proximity to South Padre Island and the fun my family and friends had there particularly in my teenage years.
It was actually on my mother's and my last trip down to McAllen from Houston, Texas to visit my brother and sister-in-law that I actually stopped to photograph the Port Isabel Lighthouse. At the time I was actively carving and then hand printing limited editions of my linocuts and I thought that it would be a good subject which it has proven to be.
My brother was driving us to Padre Island from his home in McAllen just to have lunch on the barrier island and to show us all of the new buildings that had been constructed. It had been many years since I had been to Padre Island and I could hardly believe my eyes!
The days of playing down there when I was a kid and when there were only a few motels and some cabanas that could be rented for the day with dressing rooms, toilets and showers were long gone.
Also gone were the open spaces and sand dunes which were the predominant features of South Padre Island back in the early and mid-1960s.
South Padre Island Beach View (from the perspective of the private homes on the beach)
Now most of South Padre Island...at least the southern end across from Port Isabel ...is filled to the brim with lodgings both public and private. If staying at a motel, hotel or condo naturally one has beach access from that site. Because of all of the private homes now built along the Gulf shore one has to drive to designated parking spots where one can have access to the beach between the private lodgings.
Naturally the beach belongs to the public but access is much more restricted. One would have to continue driving north to get to less populated areas on Padre Island now compared to the days of yesteryear and my memories. I liked it much better when it was in its more natural state. Obviously Real Estate development has changed the face of how it now appears.
South Padre Island
My family along with my maternal grandparents had moved from Wisconsin to South Texas in 1960.
Driving to South Padre Island from McAllen was a real treat back in those days. The salty waters and wave action of the Gulf of Mexico was so different from scenery we had known. Often my grandparents would go with our family for a day of fun and frolic climbing the sand dunes and playing in the water.
My parents could bring their German Shepherd along and Sheba would run freely along the beach.
We lost many of our family photos due to a flood in my parent's home many years ago caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Beulah. Only a few homes on our street got flooded because of a blockage in the storm drainage. We had about 3 feet of water in our home!
So excuse these old photos. They were recently made from negatives that I found and are no longer crisp and clear as I might like...but they still give one an idea of what the cabanas looked like as well as what it was like on Padre Island back in those days when we were first enjoying it.
Cabanas and Sand Dunes on South Padre Island - 1960s Old PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Not only did my family enjoy the salty breezes of the Gulf of Mexico off of Padre Island but so did my girlfriends. I vividly remember one time when a bunch of us in our senior year of high school rented some motel rooms and spent a few days down there.
We were a good group of girls that regularly had slumber parties at one anothers homes, attended football games together and had a grand time discussing boys. Few of us had experienced much in the way of dating back then.
So while we ogled the boys on the beach, we built sandcastles, played in the surf, shared meals, laughed, sang and generally had a great time.
So what do these fond memories have to do with the Port Isabel Lighthouse?
Basically at 72 feet in height it stood as a landmark beacon of nearing the Queen Isabella Causeway which takes one from land over the water to Padre Island. So we knew that our days of playing on the Island were about to commence when we would get close enough to spot this lighthouse. It would also greet us upon our return.
Of course that lighthouse has more of a history than just being a notable landmark feature in Port Isabel.
- It was one of 16 lighthouses all along the Texas coastline at one time. None of them are still operational and the Port Isabel Lighthouse is the only one open to the public.
- The lighthouse and the land on which it is located comprises the smallest state park in all of Texas standing as it does on slightly less than a acre of land.
- A visitor's center where the Chamber of Commerce is now located was constructed next to it and replicates the lighthouse keeper's lodgings. This is all on a grassy knoll surrounded by streets and the entire area was once known as Fort Polk back in 1846 when General Zachary Taylor and his army troops were fighting with Mexico. A small battle during the Civil War was also fought at this location.
- The lighthouse was constructed in 1852 and shined its light helping to safely guide ships until 1905 when it went dark.
Restoration of the building was last completed in the year 2000 and for a small fee one can climb the stairs and see the surrounding sites from this elevated bird's eye view. No admission is charged for active military men and women.
The family in which I grew up and shared these fond memories have now all passed on to the next life, but that lighthouse remains firmly grounded where it has stood for over a century and a half.
Hope that answers your question Gail! You can learn a bit more about Gail Sobotkin who was one of the authors of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul Find Your Inner Strength of which I wrote a review regarding her personal story.
I loved reading this book and felt a strong connection to the story that Gail had written because of a similar personal tragedy that I had experienced. It is a book filled with encouragement showing that life does go on after suffering setbacks of many different types.
Location where Port Isabel Lighthouse is located.
© 2012 Peggy Woods