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A Tale Of Two Lighthouses


Two lighthouses, the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse and the Punta Tuna Light Station, changed hands this month. While the Fowey Rocks light was transferred to Biscayne National Park, the Punta Tuna light went to a municipality in Puerto Rico. Top photo of Fowey Rocks Lighthouse via NPS, bottom photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

Two late-19th century lighthouses with rich histories have changed hands, with one going from the U.S. Coast Guard to Biscayne National Park and the other going to a local government in Puerto Rico.

While the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse that for more than a century has warned mariners to watch out for the Florida Reef Tract went to Biscayne, the Punta Tuna Light Station was transferred to the Municipality of Maunabo in Puerto Rico. Both transfers were conducted under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which allows the Coast Guard to dispose of lighthouses it no longer needs.

The Fowey Rocks Lighthouse is a 134-year old cast-and-wrought-iron lighthouse. Under the oversight of the national park, it joins an inventory of historic structures already cared for by the park that includes the buildings in the Boca Chita Key National Historic District and ruins of homesteading settlements on many of the park's islands. The lighthouse is now the oldest, largest, and most iconic of these structures, according to park officials.

Construction actually began on the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse in 1875, but it wasn't completed until 1878 when it was put into operation. According to park officials, it is the second oldest standing structure in South Florida (excluding the Florida Keys); only surpassed in age by the Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, which the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse was built to replace.

The Fowey Lighthouse is intimately tied to the history of Biscayne National Park and the maritime history of South Florida. It was designed and built by the United States Lighthouse Board and managed by that same agency until it was disestablished in favor of the United States Lighthouse Service in 1910. The Lighthouse Service maintained the light until 1939 when it merged with the United States Coast Guard. The US Coast Guard continued to staff the lighthouse with keepers until it was automated in 1972. In 2010, the Coast Guard nominated the lighthouse for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the first step in their process of excessing historic lighthouses via the NHLPA and making them available to preservation organizations and the NPS.

Representatives from Biscayne National Park and the Coast Guard plan to celebrate the transfer of the lighthouse in a ceremony to be held at Biscayne's Dante Fascell Visitor Center on Sunday at 2 p.m..

Meanwhile, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis this past Wednesday announced the transfer of Punta Tuna Light Station, a Spanish Colonial era historic lighthouse, to the Municipality of Maunabo.

“These lighthouses are a significant part of the maritime history of the Caribbean basin and I commend the Municipality of Maunabo for their interest and ability to preserve and maintain these historic icons for the educational and cultural benefit of future generations,” Director Jarvis said in prepared comments. “The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act allows us to not only preserve this lighthouse, but continue to provide for its enjoyment by the public as part of our nation’s maritime history.”

The NHLPA was enacted in 2000 as a means to transfer historic light stations no longer occupied by the Coast Guard to any federal, state or local agency, nonprofit, or community development organization that can best protect them and guarantee their preservation and continued public use. New owners must demonstrate that the lighthouse will be used for recreation or educational purposes.

"If a historic light station is located within the boundaries of a unit of the National Park Service, or the boundaries of a Refuge administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, that federal agency has the opportunity to take over stewardship of the light station from the Coast Guard," said Jim Gabbert, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places. "If the agency does not want the light station, it is then offered (to other entities) through NHLPA."

Since 2000, more than 65 historic light stations have been transferred at no cost to qualified entities, ensuring that the public can continue to enjoy these valued places.

The Punta Tuna Light Station (Faro de Punta de la Tuna) was constructed when Puerto Rico was under Spanish Colonial rule. Completed in 1892, the octagonal stone tower rises 50 feet above an escarpment that juts into the Caribbean Sea at the entrance to the port of Maunabo. The keeper’s quarters are located in a low, flat-roofed stone and brick building that envelops the base of the tower. The light has a 3rd Order Fresnel lens, for which the Municipality also provided a preservation plan.

“From the day the first stone was laid, the Municipality has interpreted the lighthouse as one of its most significant cultural, social and architectural components," said the Hon. Jorge L. Márquez Pérez, Maunabo's mayor. "I consider the Punta Tuna Lighthouse part of our heritage. As a result, I feel morally and historically obliged to assume its perpetual care.”

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