The southeastern Gulf coast of Texas is distinguished by a number
of long, flat barrier islands, generally set about ten to 20 miles from the mainland. Perhaps the best known of these barrier islands are North Padre Island and South Padre Island, which are also the sites of a nearly 100-mile-long national seashore. In addition, South Padre is the home of the famous Point Isabel lighthouse.
Between these offshore islands and the Texas coast is the Laguna Madre, which is a vital part of the Intercoastal Waterway (a naturally protected channel along the Gulf in which ships may safely proceed during all sorts of inclement weather). It is on the extreme southern point of South Padre Island that the Point Isabel lighthouse is found.
The Point Isabel lighthouse was built in 1852, during the mid-19th century heyday of lighthouse building. It was actually constructed on the site of an army camp that was commanded by General Zachary Taylor (the future American president) during the Mexican War.
The lighthouse, which is only a few miles north of the Rio Grande River and the international border with Texas, was designed to alert passing ships both to the mouth of the Rio Grande and to the presence of Padre Island to the west.
The 57-foot conical light tower was briefly decommissioned in 1888 -- a result of diminishing sea traffic in the region as more growth and trade occurred further west along the Pacific Coast. However, it was subsequently relit in the 1890s.
The Point Isabel lighthouse was permanently turned off in 1905, during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. The lighthouse is now the center of Point Isabel State Historical Park, a popular day trip from nearby Brownsville, Texas.
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