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People work to keep Matagorda Lighthouse shining

By BY DIANNA WRAY - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Sept. 4, 2012 at 4:04 a.m.

Confederate soldiers tried to scuttle the Matagorda Lighthouse during the Civil War to prevent it from falling into the hands of Union soldiers. Repairs were made in 1873 after moving the cast iron structure to its new spot.

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For more information about the Matagorda Lighthouse and other history of Calhoun County go to calhouncountymuseum.org

MATAGORDA ISLAND - The Matagorda Island Lighthouse has stood here, a slim tower of metal in this spot on the northern edge of the island, for more than a century.

Over the years, it has seemed that the lighthouse would cease to be time and again, but people have always stepped in and made sure it survived.

"People down here love their lighthouse," George Anne Cormier, the executive director of the Calhoun Museum, said. She said it's an important symbol to the people of Calhoun County, one they have never been willing to part with, even as the other lighthouses that once dotted the shores of the Gulf Coast have become a thing of the past.

Many kinds of people have come here. The French explorer Robert de La Salle had come ashore here. Evidence of the Native Americans had been found. Europeans had settled here, trying vainly to shape a town, a bit of civilization on the mouth of the Gulf.

None of it lasted, except the lighthouse.

There had been talk for years, but the lighthouse wasn't constructed until 1852. It weathered hurricanes that destroyed the town around it and the burgeoning city of Indianola. Confederate soldiers tried to blow it up to keep it from Union hands during the Civil War, but they failed and it was taken apart and hidden.

After the war, the lighthouse was put up again, further from the shore this time because of the eroding coastline.

In the 1990s, another force almost turned out the light for good. The U.S. Coast Guard was making budget cuts and they closed the lighthouse. The move was met with dismay from the local people, and they worked together to raise the funds to turn the light back on in 1999 and to fully restore it in 2004.

While many other historical markers have fallen into disrepair and been forgotten over the years, the lighthouse has never been allowed to crumble. But it's an ongoing process, to keep the lighthouse in repair. Though it was painted a few years ago, the black paint has already faded to gray, and the salty sea air has begun rusting the sides of the tower.

"There is an effort to protect these pieces of our history, but there just aren't the funds to go around," Dan Alonso, project leader of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, said.

At the end of August, Alonso stood in front of the lighthouse and smiled as he accepted a giant check for $9,000 from the San Antonio Bay Foundation. With the help of contributions from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and others, Alonso said the lighthouse will be a gleaming black column of steel on the shoreline in a matter of months, repainted with special black paint designed to keep the rust at bay.

It has cost thousands of dollars and time and effort to keep the lighthouse standing here on this island that seems so determinedly empty of civilization, but they never doubt it's worth it.

"It's so important. There are so few things like this that are unspoiled like this," San Antonio Bay Foundation Executive Director Tommi Rhoad said.

GBRA Manager Bill West agreed.

"We are a society that learns from our history, and when we fail to do that, it's at our own peril," West said.

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