The current restoration project on Louisiana’s Sabine Pass Lighthouse is progressing despite encountering challenges, such as soft soil and some bricks that have fallen. One of the trials and tribulations is that the staircase fell, making access to the top almost impossible. The group’s leader, Andrew “Andy” Tingler, brought the challenge to the attention of the members and supporters. A question was posed to them: Would you, or you and your friends consider sponsoring a step at a cost of $1,000? The answer was yes, and these steps have been manufactured and shipped; however, their installation requires extra effort. The column of the lighthouse broke into several pieces, leaving only the base of the pole. When I contacted an engineer about using the base of the pole for a new pole, he gave the response that he needed to inspect the bottom of the pole first.
Another challenge came from many years ago. The original door was too low, leading to water, mud, and sand entering the lighthouse and blocking the door. Consequently, a new door was installed approximately four feet higher, and the bottom space was supposed to be filled with solid concrete. It was discovered that most of the space was filled with broken brick, broken concrete, and dirt instead. Therefore, this needed to be dug out.
This task was successfully accomplished with the efforts of volunteers—young, old, and in between. It took three crews continually working for three days to get it all out. This uncovered the first four steps, which were rusty but remain intact.
Meanwhile, other volunteers, over a six-day effort, took on the task of chipping away loose mortar between bricks, then re-pointing them. Another crew, consisting of two individuals, re-roofed the oil house and finished putting in a floor. This would help store materials such as mortar. The oil house project is near completion, except for the installation of the door, which may have been installed by the time you read this article.
The re-pointing of bricks primarily focused on the eight buttresses, which serve to support the tower and prevent it from sinking. The soil is soft and, when wet, causes your feet to sink in a few inches. During this activity, a volunteer was heard saying, “The swamp is swallowing me up!” This was the result of the southerly winds, which caused salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to enter the Sabine River, flooding the land around the lighthouse.
Historic pictures reveal the construction of a boardwalk connecting the tower with the keeper’s house, the dock, and the oil house. Some of the remains of the posts are still there. A fire event from years ago burned most of the wood and the keeper’s house, underscoring the fact that dry conditions are not common in the area.
On most days, a steady wind blows by the lighthouse, making it feel a bit cooler and keeping bugs away. However, that same wind fanned the flames, which resulted in the burning of the keeper’s house except for the concrete piles, which stand as a kind of Stonehenge.
Some of the very big spaces in between the bricks were filled, but more needs to be done. The buttresses are more than one story high at the high point. These buttresses give the lighthouse a rocket-ship look.
The lighthouse was on a United States postage stamp issued in 2008 and had a U.S. Lighthouse Society passport stamp as well.
Fund-raising efforts were made, which included two marathon runs and a license plate tag for Louisiana residents. This is fairly new, but 100 tags have been sold as of this writing, of which $20 goes to the lighthouse, amassing a total of $2,000. They would like to introduce a Texas one, too, but the cost is a lot higher, so that is on hold for now.
Remarkably, the workers from Cheniere Energy have volunteered to construct the staircase. This is the same group that built the first and second floating bridges leading to the lighthouse. There is a plan for a permanent drawbridge, enhancing accessibility. It is worth noting that the floating bridge was designed by Andy Tingler.
Currently, access to the lighthouse entails going through Cheniere security and driving a distance of about 4 miles, with over half of this distance being dirt and gravel roads. However, if it is during the wet season, it becomes difficult to drive on it.
Rumor has it that Cheniere is expanding. As part of this development, instead of the current road passing through the plant, the company may construct a new road on the perimeter of their property to replace it, eliminating the need for passing through security. If this happens, expect a big increase in the number of visitors. Additionally, there are plans for a gift shop.
Other plans include the creation of a replica keeper’s house and the establishment of a designated picnic area.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2023 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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