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 Punta Borinquen, PR    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.
Description: Puerto Ricans often call the main island of their self-governing U.S. territory Borinquen, which is derived from the island’s indigenous Taíno name of Borikén. On September 15, 1889, the Government of Spain, which then controlled the island, activated the newly completed lighthouse on Punta Borinquen that had cost 30,870 pesos.
Original Punta Borinquen Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
The structure consisted of a thirteen-room, one-story dwelling, designed to house two keepers, that was centered around an octagonal tower. Both the tower and dwelling were built with stone and brick and were painted red with white trim. A bracketed cornice, built in a Moorish style that contrasted sharply with the structure's otherwise simple neo-classic lines, supported the walkway that encircled the lantern room.

A 3 ˝-order Fresnel lens, manufactured in France by Barbier and Benard and equipped with eight flash panels, was installed in the lantern room. A weight suspended in the tower powered a clockwork mechanism that revolved the lens to produce a distinctive pattern of alternating red and white flashes.

In the Reports of the Department of Commerce and Labor for 1911, $75,000 was requested for the removal of and rebuilding of the light station and dwelling at Point Borinquen. It was noted that the present light was improperly located at the foot of a 230-foot bluff, which obscured a view of the light from the northeast. In addition, the view from the south, towards the harbor of Aguadilla, was obstructed by "plantations of high trees." With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the Point Borinquen Lighthouse would be "the landfall and most important aid to navigation on the route from Europe to Panama," and hence a new light was sorely needed.

An act of Congress in June of 1917, provided $85,000 for the new Point Borinquen Lighthouse, but before any work had commenced, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico at 10:14 a.m. on October 11, 1918. Centered about ten miles off the northwest coast of the island, the quake triggered a tsunami that inundated the nearby coastline to a depth of nearly twenty feet. Of the 116 people killed in the earthquake, forty were victims of the tsunami. Property damage in the area totaled $4 million.

Due to its low-lying position on the shore, the Punta Borinquen Lighthouse, which was already threatened by erosion, was battered by the giant wave as it spread inland. The structure, however, received most of its damage from the earthquake. The tower was shattered by the shock and likely would have fallen if not for the support of the iron stairway. Cracks appeared in the main walls of the lighthouse and many more developed after a strong aftershock on October 24. It was then necessary to abandon the lighthouse and display the light from a temporary wooden structure until the new Point Borinquen Lighthouse could be constructed.

Second Punta Borinquen Lighthouse in 1978
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Keeper Fancisco Cavallieri was living at the lighthouse at the time of the earthquake with his wife and three children. According to a report by his great-granddaughter Ileana Fajardo, Keeper Cavallieri’s wife had a sense that something was not right just minutes before the tremblor. She noticed the air suddenly grew "tight," the birds went silent, and the family's dogs began to bark wildly and ran out of the house. When Francisco ignored her pleas to leave the lighthouse, she picked up the kids and ran inland. Keeper Cavallieri soon followed his wife, and just moments later the tidal wave engulfed the lighthouse.

By July of 1919, plans for the new station were complete, a third-order lantern and the metalwork for the station were being fabricated, and bids for its construction were about to be solicited. The replacement lighthouse was constructed atop a bluff approximately one mile east of the old site in 1921. This time the tower was constructed of reinforced concrete and was detached from the nearby dwelling that measures 56’ 4” x 39’ 6”. A central hallway, running east-west, divided the dwelling into two apartments. On the south side of the hallway, the head keeper had a living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom, and guest room. The assistant keeper’s side of the house had a similar layout, but its largest room was used as a common storage room.

The tower rests on a square cement foundation that is six-feet-deep and measures twenty-five feet on each side. Inside the tower, a cast-iron staircase spirals upwards around a central column inside which a 200-pound weight for rotating the lens was suspended. As the lens used in the original Punta Borinquen Lighthouse was destroyed in the earthquake, a third-order lens was ordered from the Macbeth Company of New York for use in the new tower. This lens had twelve panels, eight of which produced flashes, and floated in a pool of mercury to facilitate its rotation. In 1947, the lantern room was removed, and the lens was replaced by a 36”, double-headed Crouse-Hinds beacon designed to aid both sea and air traffic.

Jeff Bryant served as officer in charge of the Punta Borinquen Lighthouse in 1977, and when he left in December of that year, responsibility for turning the light on and off was transferred to the nearby air station. The Coast Guard had tried to automate the lighthouse but the relays would not take the load, so manual intervention was still needed. Shortly after Jeff Bryant first arrived at Punta Borinquen he reported for duty one morning after being out drinking the night before. His commanding officer promptly gave him a shovel and rake and put him to work spreading gravel in the driveway under the hot sun saying, "If you're going to stay out with the owls all night, be prepared to soar with the eagles in the morning."

The lighthouse is still controlled by Air Station Borinquen, but the dwelling is used as guest housing and the beacon is now automated.

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. “Faro de Punta Borinquen,” Kevin Murphy, Historic American Engineering Record, August, 1984.
  2. “Tsunami in Puerto Rico,” Bob and Sandra Shanklin, Lighthouse Digest, March, 2005.

Location: Located at the top of the bluffs, near the northwest corner of the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla.
Latitude: 18.4972
Longitude: -67.1488

For a larger map of Punta Borinquen Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Route 2 in Aguadilla, go north on Route 107 (Calle San Rafael) for 4.1 km (2.6 miles). From this point, continue straight onto Avenida Borinquen for 2.1 km (1.3 miles), and then turn left onto a short road that leads to the Punta Borinquen Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Punta Borinquen Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
As the dwelling at Punta Borinquen Lighthouse consists of two two-bedroom cottages that are used as guest housing for the nearby USCG Air Station Borinquen, the grounds are not accessible to visitors. You can get a decent view from the street near the lighthouse, but I also asked permission of the adjacent Punta Borinquen Golf Club to walk to the green of Hole 10 to get this view of the lighthouse.

See our List of Lighthouses in Puerto Rico

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.