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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

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