Sabine Pass Lighthouse – The Aging Lady of the Marsh
by Deborah Hacker Serra
Looking a bit worse for wear, this veteran of hurricanes, wars, marsh fires, and humans has stood watch over Brant Point and the Sabine Pass in Cameron Parish for 160 years. Today, members of Cameron Preservation Alliance-Sabine Pass Lighthouse, Inc. are working diligently to stabilize and restore the lighthouse. They are in a race against time and nature.
Soon after joining the United States in 1845, Texans in the Sabine Pass area lobbied for a lighthouse to help protect maritime traffic in the Gulf of Mexico. Funds were appropriated in 1849 but the hired surveyor reported that a lighthouse was not needed and would be a waste of money. More studies were made and finally in 1853, with $30,000 appropriated, a more sympathetic surveyor recommended a site on the east side of the river in Louisiana. Construction began in 1855 and the lighthouse became functional in 1857. The huge light was fueled by whale oil at that time and operated by one keeper and an assistant.
Sister lighthouses in Bolivar and Matagorda, Tx. were constructed in brick covered in iron sheeting, but the board overseeing the construction of Sabine Pass Lighthouse opted for brick only construction, making this a unique structure along the Gulf Coast. Even today the lighthouse rises over the marsh looking like a rocket with eight buttresses, an octagonal body, and a pointy cone at the top. In 1976, a marsh fire destroyed what had been left of the keeper’s quarters and out buildings. All that’s left now is a brick generator building and the lighthouse itself, which is beginning to lean after the past several hurricanes passing this way.
In her 160 year history, this beacon along a quiet stretch of coastline has witnessed keepers’ children playing in its shadow. When the light was darkened during the Civil War, the lighthouse was witness to two Union ships being lost in the Battle of Sabine Pass. She even hosted a wedding in 1909. And then in 1952, she went dark forever. This grand old lady had become obsolete.
Over the years ownership has transferred between various governmental and private entities. In 1982, the Sabine Lighthouse gained a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1986 she was sold to some folks who wanted to restore the tower, build a restaurant, and add a yacht club. However, with these dreams unrealized, the Cameron Preservation Alliance assumed ownership in 2001 with plans to restore the lighthouse. To that end they have held fundraisers, among them an October run in 2016 which netted $30,000. This money helped fund a survey of the current condition of the brick and mortar in the tower. As a result, metal banding will begin soon to help keep the tower standing. The next fundraiser will be held October 14th (see sidebar.)
On private property, the Sabine Pass Lighthouse is not accessible to the public. However, it is starkly visible from both sides of the Sabine as she rises out of the marsh, waiting for her next chapter to begin.
The Lighthouse Run – Are you tough enough?
Saturday, October 14, 4:00 – 7:00 p.m., the second annual Lighthouse Run will take place along Holly Beach in Cameron Parish. Featuring a one mile walk/run course and 5K and 10K runs, this unique event is an all-sand display of athleticism. It’s a great way to test your endurance and help save a lighthouse that has survived quite a lot over the years. All proceeds go to the Cameron Preservation Alliance-Sabine Pass Lighthouse, Inc. This is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the Sabine Pass Lighthouse. For more information and to register: Sabinepasslighthouse.org (go to Events and follow directions) or runsignup.com/Race/LA/LakeCharles/Lighthouserun for a direct link.
The future is bright
Andrew Tingler with the Cameron Preservation Alliance reports plans are moving forward for a specialty Louisiana license plate for the Sabine Pass Lighthouse. The cost of the plate will be $20 over the regular cost of a license plate. These funds will be collected every two years for those ordering the specialty plate and $20 per plate will be sent back to the Alliance for use on lighthouse preservation. Anyone in the state may purchase the plate, which includes membership in the lighthouse preservation organization. The plate will feature a likeness of the lighthouse with an indigenous bird such as an egret or roseate spoonbill and blue background.
Long range plans for the lighthouse and surrounding area include development of a museum about the area which includes a national battlefield. It will be the only lighthouse open to the public from New Orleans to Port Isabel, Tx. and will be included in the Creole Nature Trail.