When thinking of lighthouses, it is unlikely that most lighthouse people would think about the lighthouses in the American Territory of Puerto Rico. But Puerto Rico does have a number of historically significant lighthouses, some, such as the Puerto Ferro Lighthouse on Vieques Island, are on the Lighthouse Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses which could soon be beyond repair.
The history of the lighthouse goes back to the days when its construction was interrupted by the Spanish-American War when U.S. military forces invaded Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. The treaty that ended that short lived war resulted in Spain giving the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States and allowed for the independence of Cuba.
After the events of the war settled down, the U.S. Light House Board completed the construction of the lighthouse and appointed its first keeper. But, by lighthouse standards, the lighthouse had a short existence. After an earthquake in 1926 caused cracks in the tower and dislodged the Fresnel lens in the lantern, the lighthouse was discontinued and replaced by an automated beacon on a skeletal tower which no longer stands.
Most of Vieques was subsequently taken over by the U.S. Navy and during World War II part of the area was used as a bombing range, which it continued to be until 1999 when a bomb dropped 1 ½ miles from its target and killed a civilian employee of the Navy. The islanders then mounted a protest against the bombings which gained in strength over the next few years and eventually some very notable people joined them. One of those was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who added another arrest to his record, when he was charged with trespassing at Camp Garcia at Vieques and subsequently sentenced to 30 days in jail. Shortly after that, President George W. Bush announced that the military would withdraw from the site, which it did in 2003.
When my husband Bob and I first photographed the lighthouse in 2000, it was still in possession of the military and we had to get special permission from the Navy just to fly over it. The flight was a first for our pilot, who had never before been allowed to fly over the area. So it was also his first time seeing the lighthouse. After the Navy left, the area was turned into a National Wildlife Refuge under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now, anyone can walk to and visit and photograph the abandoned lighthouse. But, be warned; you do so at your own risk. The roof the lighthouse is crumbling and the ground near the bluff is unstable. Although the area is now being preserved as a National Wildlife Refuge, restoring an abandoned lighthouse is extremely low on the priority list, if at all, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although the Puerto Ferro Lighthouse could be restored and saved, it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2013 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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