Matagorda Island Lighthouse – Beacon to the Past

Matagorda Island Lighthouse

Matagorda Island Lighthouse is in the
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
– photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard –

Matagorda Island Lighthouse is that rare beast: a still-active, historic Texas lighthouse. In fact, Matagorda Island Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the state of Texas.

Unlike traditional, masonry lighthouses decorated in white or striped with red, Matagorda Island Lighthouse is a dark, imposing tower built of cast iron. Constructed in 1852, the lighthouse directed ships entering Pass Cavallo.

Originally erected on the northeast end of the island and painted with red, white, and black horizontal stripes, Matagorda Island Lighthouse has had an interesting life. During the Civil War, fearing that it might serve Federal interests or fall into Yankee hands, the light was turned off and the tower almost destroyed by purposefully set explosives. Luckily, the charges only inflicted minor damage. After the war, the lighthouse was repaired and put back into service, two miles inland from its original location.

The lighthouse remained in service until 1995. Maintenance and restoration began in 1997 with the formation of the non-profit, Matagorda Island Foundation. Thanks to their efforts, the Matagorda Island Lighthouse came back to life in 1999.

Even without the lighthouse, Matagorda Island was essential to the control of Texas and the Gulf. During World War II, the island was used as a bombing range and many of the resulting craters are visible to this day.

Despite this turbulent past, the island remains in a near natural state with beaches perfect for swimming, fishing, shell collecting, and birding. The Matagorda State Parks and Wildlife Area, located at the eastern portion of the island, is an extremely important wildlife refuge for many species, including 20 on the endangered list.

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