Historical Commission takes reins at P.I. lighthouse

A view of the Port Isabel Lighhouse at dusk Thursday evening as the landmark is now part of the Texas Historical Commission Site.

The operations of the Port Isabel Lighthouse officially changed hands this month with the Texas Historical Commission now taking the reigns from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The iconic lighthouse, which is the only one along the Texas coast open to the public, was built on the grounds of Fort Polk in 1852 and was decommissioned in 1905. It’s part of Port Isabel’s branding.

The light house is where the city holds its summer movie series and market days and will continue to do so under the agreement with THC, said City Manager Jared Hockema.

The city bought the land the lighthouse sits on and donated it to the state. The city will continue to operate the lighthouse.

Although Port Isabel officials last year voiced concerns about the transfer questioning whether it would affect some of the activities at the lighthouse, Hockema said officials met with the parties involved, including State Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, in spring of this year and were able to come to an agreement to benefit all.

“There was a very constructive dialogue in the spring and we have been meeting with the Historical Commission to prepare for the handover,” Hockema said. “The city operates the lighthouse and we have an agreement with the state for that operation, and so our principal focus was to ensure that agreement continued.”

The lighthouse underwent a major renovation in October 2016 and reopened in 2018. Some of the renovations included replacing railing that now allows the public to walk out onto the cat walk. Hockema said the lighthouse has gained in popularity ever since the renovations. The renovations were done by TPWD.

“We look forward to a positive relationship with the Texas Historical Commission. I think one of the positive things that will come out is that this facility will be one of their showpiece properties. It’s the smallest state park in the state but it is going to be one of their most iconic attractions that they have under their stewardship,” Hockema said.

The Port Isabel Lighthouse is one of seven properties transferred to the THC from the TPWD. Officials said the transfers were made by the 86th Texas Legislature on the recommendation of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. According to a press release from the THC, the action will allow both the THC and TPWD to prove efficiency by focusing on each agency’s core mission – “THC’s role as the state historic preservation office, and TPWD’s as steward of the state’s impressive natural resources and hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation attractions.”

“Texas Parks and Wildlife and their professional staff have done impressive work stewarding these historic places,” said Mark Wolfe, THC executive director. “We welcome this challenge to build on their legacy and continue the preservation of these unique sites for new generations of visitors to enjoy. We are pleased that we will be able to work with many of the same staff who have operated and maintained all the transferring sites. We welcome them and these sites to the Texas Historical Commission family.”

An official ceremony on the transfer to THC from TPWD will be held on Oct. 2.

“We are excited and looking forward to this partnership with Texas Historical Commission. They have some really good ideas to enhance the lighthouse. I think we are going to benefit from being one of their top priorities,” Hockema said.