Texas Lighthouses: The Early Years, 1850-1900
T HE DEVELOPMENT OF PORTS ALONG THE TEXAS COAST OCCUPIES AN
important position in the history of the Lone Star State. Through these
outlets and inlets vast amounts of goods have flowed into the interior, while
cotton, wheat, and petroleum products have been exported to world
markets. In the days before modern ship-to-shore communication, few
seamen could sail the Gulf of Mexico without relying on the lighthouse,
whose beacon announced an entrance channel and a port-of-call. The fight
to obtain these navigational aids represents a history unto itself, and one
that dates to the struggling days of the Republic of Texas.
Various types of lights and beacons were in use long before ships began
plying the waters off the coasts of the United States and Texas. Nature
originally provided signals to Mediterranean seafarers, including volcanoes
at Etna and Vesuvius. In 280 B.C., Egyptians built a 450-foot tower of
white marble on Pharos, an island in the harbor of Alexandria. Purported
to be one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the tower's signal,
fueled by a wood fire, was visible for i oo miles and burned night and day.
Eventually the term pharos was applied to all structures built to direct the
course of sailors either by lights or signals. By the mid-sixteenth century a
number of primitive lighthouses dotted the Atlantic coast of Europe,
including the Tour de Cordouan at the mouth of the Gironde in France;
Eddystone, erected by the English; and the Danish-built Scaw and Anhalt
towers. The first light in the North American colonies began operation on
Little Brewster Island near Boston in 1716, being supported by a tax
collected on all vessels entering or leaving Boston Harbor. As coastwise
trade gained in importance, these aids to navigation were erected on the
Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes.'
*Mr. Darst teaches history at Galveston Community College.
'Lorenzo L. DaPonte and John D. Ogilby (eds.), Biblioteca Classica; or, A Dictionary
of All the Principal Names and Terms Relating to Geography, Typography, History,
Literature and Mythology of Antiquity and of the Ancients (New York, 1832), 247;
Lorenzo L. DaPonte (ed.), Roman Antiquities; or, An Account of the Manners and
Customs of the Romans (New York, 1842), 284; James F. Imray and W. H. Rosser
(eds.), The Lights and Tides of the World, Together With the Variation and Dip of the
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed May 22, 2015.