How Zachary Taylor helped get our Lighthouse

Special to the PRESS/NEWS

The Rio Grande Valley occupies a unique and highly important position in the annals of American progress and development.

When the dispute between the United States and Mexico became a noticeable conflict—it was in Point Isabel, as it was known then, that Fort Polk was born.

Zachary Taylor made the seaport the base to supply his army—which eventually marched to Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.  It was here, on May 8 and 9, 1846, that the war started and that the U.S. demonstrated the right to be classed among the world powers.

The War with Mexico marked the southern and western movement that helped this country acquire new lands.  

By 1847, the U.S. took control of the war and by 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed; the American flag was soon flying over California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona.  

The battles in the Lower Rio Grande also defined the fate of Texas and forever established the boundary of the United States on the Rio Grande.

Zachary Taylor Received Nomination for Presidency

For his gallant deeds on the battlefield, it was here from Brazos Santiago, off Port Isabel, that Zachary Taylor received his nomination for the presidency of the United States.

According to an essay written by Joan Stigleman in the 1940s—his nomination is a matter of record in the Congressional Library in Washington, a little known fact here in the Valley.

When the application for a lighthouse on the Point reached Washington—President Taylor, who was awfully familiar with this territory, was our beam of light.

With his backing, the application was favored at once.  The approval was granted in 1850 and the lighthouse was completed by 1852 within the defenses of Fort Polk.

When the city fathers envisioned Point Isabel, the lighthouse marked the center of the projected community.

The Old Lighthouse

Soon after the lighthouse was flashing its light—business flourished in the area.  The harbor housed ships from around the world and its light was a blessing for many a sailor during those many foggy nights, until the outbreak of the civil war—when the land in which it stood once again became a battle site.  

During the Civil War, the light was extinguished by orders of the Federal troops, which occupied the southern end of the island.

According to government records, the first keeper of the lighthouse was J. H. B. Horn.  He was succeeded in 1857 by J. H. Durst, and at this time the lighthouse was refitted.  After the Civil War, the beacon was relit, and the tower underwent extensive repairs in 1870.

In the old days, the lighthouse was on a knoll and several houses were nearby, owned mainly by Brownsville citizens.  One large building closest to the structure was owned by the government and used by the captain of the Coast Guard.  

R.B. Creagers, Joe Viviers, J.K. Wells, the Fernandez family and others owned summer homes nearby. Mesquite trees and shrubbery were dense, and a winding dirt road, used mainly by burros, goats and oxcarts, passed by the old tower.

In 1888, the Lighthouse was discontinued until 1895.  It was in use again until 1905 when it was permanently discontinued.  It was officially marked by the State of Texas in 1936.

Editor’s Note: Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Texas Southmost College. He has a long history in the Rio Grande Valley as an educator, sports historian, and humanitarian with a wealth of community service to his credit.  

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