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Port Isabel Lighthouse and See Vintage South Padre Island Photos From the 1960s

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Port Isabel Lighthouse

Port Isabel Lighthouse

Question and Answer

The following question came from Gail Sobotkin, a HubPage writer known as the '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 at the top of my list to be my favorite. It is near South Padre Island, and viewing the lighthouse brought back memories of the fun my family and friends shared many years ago.

It was actually on my mother's and my last trip to McAllen from Houston, Texas, to visit my brother and sister-in-law that I 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 an excellent subject which it has proven to be.

My brother drove us to Padre Island from his home in McAllen to have lunch on the barrier island and show us all of the new buildings that were now there. It had been many years since I had been to Padre Island, and I could hardly believe my eyes!

Original limited edition linocut that I created of the lighthouse

Original limited edition linocut that I created of the lighthouse

The days of playing down there when I was a kid and when there were only a few motels and some cabanas available to rent for the day with dressing rooms, toilets, and showers were long gone. Also gone were the open spaces and dunes, which were the predominant features of South Padre Island in the early and mid-1960s.

Now, most of South Padre Island (at least the southern end across from Port Isabel) is cram-packed 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 to access 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 than the days of yesteryear and my memories. I liked it much better when it was in its more natural state. 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 were new and different for us. My grandparents would often go with our family for a day of fun and frolic, climbing the 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 houses 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 are from negatives that I found and are no longer as crisp and clear as I might like, but they still give one an idea of what the cabanas looked like and what it was like on Padre Island back in those days when we were first enjoying it.

Fond Memories

My family enjoyed the salty breezes of the Gulf of Mexico off of Padre Island, but so did my girlfriends. I vividly remember when some 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 who regularly had slumber parties at one another's homes, attended football games, 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.

Port Isabel Lighthouse

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. 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 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 sits comprise the smallest state park in Texas, standing, as it does, on slightly less than an acre of land.

A visitor's center where the Chamber of Commerce operates was constructed next to it and replicated the lighthouse keeper's lodgings. This visitor's center and lighthouse are 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 took place at this location.

The lighthouse was constructed in 1852 and shined its light, helping to 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. There is no admission fee for active military men and women.

Port Isabel lighthouse

Port Isabel lighthouse

My family, who shared these fond memories with me, have passed on to the next life. But the lighthouse remains firmly grounded where it has stood for over a century and a half.

South Padre Island beach view of Gulf of Mexico

South Padre Island beach view of Gulf of Mexico


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 01, 2019:

Hi Rajan,

Yes, the wide open spaces of South Padre Island that I remember as a child are long gone. Much real estate development has changed the appearance, but as you wrote, memories can last a lifetime.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 01, 2019:

Childhood memories are everlasting. I can see from the pictures that you do have lovely memories of having fun times at Port Isabel Lighthouse & the South Padre Island.

Real estate development today has changed the face of possibly most of our childhood fun places and I am certain we all do miss those open spaces.

Thanks for sharing these priceless photos and the enlightening write-up.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 24, 2015:

Hi Au fait,

Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving also! Have fun and be safe. Thanks for the share on this Port Isabel and Padre Island hub looking back to the 1960s.

C E Clark from North Texas on November 23, 2015:

One of your most repinned articles on my 'Travel' board. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving with your friends. Daughter and I will be visiting with friends this year too. Sharing this again. Happy Thanksgiving!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 15, 2015:

Hi Au fait,

Thanks for the compliment on my linocuts and the share. This part of the Gulf Coast will probably not be very busy with vacationers this week due to the impending storm on the horizon. Just what we need.....more rain! Hope it is not as bad as they are predicting it might be.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 13, 2015:

This could be a great destination for someone's vacation. The photo of the lighthouse is pinned and repined dozens of times every week. I hope you get some views out of all that. I always enjoy seeing your linocuts, too. They seem like a lot of work, but they are so beautiful and creative they are worth it I'm sure. To me they are anyway since you are doing the work and they have turned out so exceptional. :)

Sharing this again as it may remind someone this is on their bucket list.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 21, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Times have really changed regarding the landscape of South Padre Island since I was a teenager. It is really built up now with hotels, condos, etc. The endless sand dunes and sparsely populated areas are just a fond memory. It is still a major tourist attraction. Thanks for your comment and pin and remarks about my artwork.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 20, 2013:

This is such an amazing hub so full of information for anyone who might like to visit South Padre Island. Interesting to see how it was then compared to now, too. Great photos.

Your travel articles dominate my "Travel" board and your hubs that I have pinned, especially the one about San Antonio and the Alamo, are continually re-pinned. No one comes to see anything of mine. :( While that is true, I'm just teasing. I'm glad your so successful on my Pinterest boards. Honestly. Hope you're seeing more traffic as a result.

Been here before, but came back to pin that great lighthouse photo on my Travel board. Noted also, the linocut of the lighthouse. I'm always impressed with your work on that. Your hub on linocuts is very popular too. ;)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2013:

Hi Sheila,

So glad that reading this hub brought back happy memories of your first visit to the Gulf coast with your best friend and her family. Sounds like you had a great time. I was also a teenager when my family moved down to Texas and I got to see it for the first time. It has certainly changed from those early days when there were only a few hotels on the island and lots of sand dunes and those cabanas that could be rented in which one could change and also shower to wash off the salt and sand. Fun times! Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on April 18, 2013:

I visited the Corpus Christi area when I was a young teenager. I went on vacation with my best friend and her family. We went to so many wonderful places, I am not sure if we visited Port Isabel or not, but I remember them talking about it. I would love to go back and re-visit this area. Great hub with lots of wonderful pictures and information. You brought back memories of my first visit to the Gulf of Mexico. Great hub, wonderful information and beautiful pictures! Up, interesting and sharing! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 06, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

South Padre Island has become very built up with hotels, condos, beach homes, etc. as might be expected since the 1960's. There are still some uninhabited areas if one likes more solitude. It is an amazing barrier island off the Texas coast. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

C E Clark from North Texas on January 06, 2013:

I've heard so much about Padre Island and never been there. Lots of good information here for people wanting to visit down there. Sounds like you had a lot of fun in your senior year (high school) too! Great photos as always. Great video of the beach.

Voted up, BAUI, and will share!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 21, 2012:

Hi Jim Rocco,

What fun that must have been for you and your brother to sleep up in the Port Isabel Lighthouse when your grandfather was the caretaker. Too bad that the hurricane (was it Beulah?) destroyed the store. We would have been living in McAllen at the same time as your grandparents. Thanks for commenting and adding a bit of extra information to this article. Appreciate it!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 21, 2012:

Hello nicolasmith504,

So glad that you enjoyed this hub about the Port Isabel Lighthouse and South Padre Island. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Jim Rocco on April 21, 2012:

In the late 50's early 60's, there was a small store at the base of the lighthouse in Port Isabel called the Mexi-mart. The store was owned by my Grandparents, and my Grandfather was the caretaker of the light house. My brother and I use to sleep overnight in the top of the lighthouse for fun. The store was lost in the huricane, and was never rebuilt. My Grandparents then moved to McAllen, where they lived for a long time.

nicolasmith504 on April 01, 2012:

Nice post i really like it

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 31, 2012:

Hi Judi,

The development on South Padre Island has changed the appearance greatly since I was a younster first experiencing it. It is still a destination for numerous visitors to that part of Texas who wish to experience a beach type of vacation on the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks for your comment.

judio on March 29, 2012:

In all my years in TX, I've never been to Padre.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 22, 2012:

Hi Stacie L,

So nice to know that you enjoyed this hub about the Port Isabel Lighthouse and my memories of fun times on Padre Island. Thanks for your comment.

Stacie L on March 22, 2012:

I love lighthouses and that looks so inviting!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 14, 2012:

Hi KoffeeKlatch Gals,

Glad to know that you enjoyed this hub about Padre Island and my memories. Thanks for your comment.

Susan Hazelton from Sunny Florida on March 14, 2012:

Beautiful picture, I love the family ones. Thanks for the tour of a beautiful place.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 12, 2012:

Hi Simone,

Texas has quite a long coastline as a matter of fact. Thanks for your visit and comment.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 12, 2012:

What a beautiful place! Jeez... I really do need to visit Texas. I've rarely thought of it as a "coastal" place per se, but it obviously is!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 11, 2012:

Hi Prasetio,

These photos are vintage...most of them anyway. I'm glad to have them even if the quality of them is not the greatest. Nice to know that you enjoyed learning a bit about the Port Isabel Lighthouse and Padre Island. Appreciate your comment and votes.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on March 11, 2012:

I love the way you present this information. Port Isabel Lighthouse is the beautiful one surrounded by wonderful island. I really enjoy all vintage pictures here. You have beautiful memories of this island. I am so happy to know this from you. Good job, Peggy. Vote up and press all buttons. Take care!


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hi Cheryl,

We did have some good times on Padre Island when I was a youngster and always passed the iconic Port Isabel Lighthouse both coming and going. Thanks for your comment.

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on March 10, 2012:

You have a great library of fond memories of visiting Port Isabel Lighthouse and South Padre Island. This beautiful historical landmark is a very popular place and its light has been an aid to people lost at sea. Great memorable photos, videos and information of this wonderful historical site.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hi Gail,

I was delighted to find one of your questions which I could answer. Nice to know that you liked my response and thanks so much for the votes and sharing of this hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hello johnr54,

South Padre Island and Port Isabel with its lighthouse offer different scenery from north central Texas. When you get a chance to go that direction, hope you enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hi Darlene,

Sounds like you had a great vacation on South Padre Island. You have your own memories! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hello viking305,

Yes, these memories of South Padre Island and the Port Isabel Lighthouse go way back. Glad to know that you enjoyed this. Thanks for your comment.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on March 10, 2012:

"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!"

Oh Peggy, I was hoping you'd write an answer to my question so I was delighted to see this hub, but reading it was bittersweet knowing that your family have all passed on.

So glad that you were able to get these photos developed when so many others were destroyed in the flood. I'm sure it must make the photos you do have all the more prescious to you.

Having traveled so many places, I can see why San Padre Island and its lighthouse is your favorite as it holds so many happy memories for you. Glad you were able to visit it again with your brother years later.

Thanks so much for writing such a great hub in answer to my question. I love how you wove so much information about the lighthouse in between the touching memories of the times you spent there with family and friends.

Voted up across the board including funny and will be sharing on facebook and with followers.

Joanie Ruppel from Texas on March 10, 2012:

Peggy, I have lived in North Central Texas for 30 years and have yet to make it to Padre Island, but when I do, I will visit this beautiful landmark. Thanks for sharing your memories and enlightening us at the same time.

Darlene on March 10, 2012:

Loved the photos. They brought back happy memories of when we took our children to South Padre Island in 1972.

L M Reid from Ireland on March 10, 2012:

I loved reading about your summers at South Padre Island and the Lighthouse. Happy childhood memories are a treasure to remember and pass on. The photos of the beautiful white sand on the beach and the sand dunes is awesome

Thanks for SHARING. Up and Awesome!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2012:

Hi Don,

If you do go to Michigan and take photos of some of the lighthouses, that would make another good hub...or two or three for you. Glad to hear that you liked this one regarding the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Thanks for the votes and share.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on March 09, 2012:

Hi Peggy. It's been quite awhile since we have been to any light house. Your hub makes me want to get up to Lake Michigan and search them out.Up,Interesting,beautiful votes. will share with followers.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 09, 2012:

Hi Stephanie,

Ah...my traveling friend! That is right. I remember reading your hub about South Padre Island. Will try and find it again and link it to this hub. Thanks for your comment.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on March 09, 2012:

You did a wonderful job of incorporating interesting anecdotes about your family into this informative and beautiful hub about the Port Isabel lighthouse. I loved South Padre Island when we visited, and can see why it holds a special place in your heart as you have so many fond memories of the area.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 09, 2012:

Hi alocsin,

I had just turned 13 when my parents moved to McAllen from Wisconsin. I'm the one standing behind my brother Jim and my mother, father and brother John are on the right in the photo on the sand dune with Sheba. We were all out of the toddler stage. Ha! Thanks for your comment and votes.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 09, 2012:

I like how you work in personal anecdotes and pictures into this travelogue. So, which one are you in the Sheba picture? I don't see any toddlers around ;)

Voting this Up and Interesting.

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