Digest>Archives> April 2005

Out of the past: Cabras Island Puerto Rico

By Sandra Shanklin

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The 4th Cabras Island Lighthouse Puerto Rico as ...

There were 15 major lighthouses built or being built (re: Mona Island) by the Spanish, when the U.S. took over Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish American War. El Morro was damaged in the war and was redesigned and rebuilt on its original foundation on Morro Castle. Point Borinquen and Point Jiguero were damaged some years later in an earthquake and tsunami and new structures were built to take their places.

There are still 15 lighthouses standing in Puerto Rico in various states of repair or disrepair, but there WAS a 16th. The only lighthouse completely built and planned by the U.S. government was on Cabras Island where there had been no lighthouse before, although the Spanish government had proposed to build a lighthouse there as early as 1869. So far, no records have been found to tell why their plans fell through, as a lighthouse was surely needed there.

Cabras Island lighthouse, on the eastern end of Puerto Rico, was built with a similarity to El Morro lighthouse, which resembles the fort on which it was built. El Faro de Cabras, however, was not built on a fort, but on a barren little island in Vieques Passage, with the nearest city being Ceiba.

The lighthouse was planned as early as 1904 when the 20 acres of land were bought for $200. The lighthouse was finished and put into service in on May 13, 1908 at a cost of $5654.55, including the pier and the road to the lighthouse. The building was a two-story gray stone structure with white trim, with a short cylindrical tower on one corner supporting a black lantern room. Its original optic was a sixth order lens.

The building itself was not very big. Although 2 stories, it had only two rooms, deemed adequate for a keeper alone or with a wife.

Around 1916, a covered porch was added with some sort of enclosed room. In 1923 a kitchen/dining room addition was proposed and approved. No records or photos have been found to confirm that the building was done, except an inventory of the station in 1930 states that in addition to the stone and masonry keepers’ dwelling and lighthouse, there was a concrete kitchen, (possibly a separate building), an oil house and a privy.

The station was converted with an unwatched acetylene light installed on the tower, when the keeper was retired Sept. 1, 1931. It was felt that another keeper would not be needed on Cabras Island.

In 1937 the Lighthouse Service, after many problems with squatters on Cabras Island, boarded up the windows and doors and razed all the outbuildings. Possibly the stone tower was used for the light until 1965, when the light was replaced by a range light. According to the few records available, the structure was destroyed in 1966. Now, even the range light, a wooden structure, has been discontinued, and is slated for destruction. Again, there is no light on Cabras Island, and the one lighthouse in Puerto Rico built by the U.S. on a new spot is totally gone.

This story appeared in the April 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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