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Puerto Ferro, PR  Lighthouse accessible by ferry.A hike of some distance required.   

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Puerto Ferro Lighthouse

The Spanish commenced construction of Puerto Ferro Lighthouse in 1896 using essentially the same plans as the earlier Punta Mulas Lighthouse located on the opposite shore of Vieques Island, but the outbreak of the Spanish-American War interrupted the work. Just a few months after control of Puerto Rico passed to the United States, work resumed on Puerto Ferro Lighthouse with the U.S. government setting aside $4,000 for the purchase and installation of a light at Puerto Ferro. The lighthouse was activated for the first time in December 1899.

Puerto Ferro Lighthouse consists of an octagonal tower centered on the roof of a one-story dwelling, which measures 53’ x 35’ with the main entrance centered on the south side of the structure. The main door enters into a vestibule, which connects to the tower to the north, the keeper’s two bedrooms and a living room to the east, and an inspector’s room, office, storage/oil room, and latrine to the west. The kitchen was located opposite the vestibule on the north side of the dwelling.

Puerto Ferro Lighthouse in 1905
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A spiral, cast-iron stairway provided access from the dwelling to a circular lantern room, which was surrounded by a cement gallery and a cast-iron balustrade. A third-order Fresnel lens in the lantern room was revolved by a clockwork mechanism attached to a 200-pound weight that was suspended in the stairway’s central column. The light’s early signature was a white flash every five seconds, and the structure was painted white with gray trimmings.

Keeper Raimon Romero discovered a bottle with a message inside near Puerto Ferro Lighthouse on November 17, 1912. The message indicated that the bottle had been set adrift at a point in the Atlantic Ocean about 240 miles east of Cape Henry, Virginia on October 12, 1907. It was thus surmised that the bottle had made a circuit of the North Atlantic in just over five years.

In 1912, a request was made to purchase a half-acre parcel inland from Puerto Ferro Lighthouse for the establishment of a new watershed and cistern, as the water being collected from the roof of the lighthouse was being contaminated by sea spray due to the proximity of the lighthouse to the ocean.

In Reports of the Department of Commerce for 1913, it was recommended that $34,000 be spent to establish a lighthouse at Port Real. The following explanatory note accompanied the recommendation.

The lighthouse at Port Ferro, on the south coast of Vieques, or Crab Island, is one of the primary seacoast lights of the Porto Rican system. The light tower and keepers’ dwelling attached to it are built on top of a rocky promontory undermined for some time by the sea, and the whole structure, already dangerously cracked, is in danger of collapsing. It is urgent to rebuild a lighthouse at or near this point, as this is an important aid to the navigation from St. Thomas to Cuba and other West Indian Islands and the Caribbean Sea. A light in this vicinity is necessary for navigation, and it is proposed to dismantle the present Port Ferro Light Station and to erect a new light station at Port Real, about 3 miles westward where the aid will be more useful and on better ground than on its present location at Port Ferro, as Port Real is the most important and the best anchorage around Vieques Island.

This requests for funds was repeated for over a decade, but Puerto Ferro Lighthouse continued to operate until it was boarded up and abandoned in 1926. On May 2, 1922, two earthquake shocks were felt at the lighthouse. The second was somewhat stronger than the first and opened up cracks in two different places in the kitchen chimney. A more severe earthquake struck the station on March 19, 1925 at 4:50 a.m. This tremor caused some of the mercury used to float the lens to slosh out onto the lantern room floor, and the lens stopped revolving until the keepers were able to repair it the following morning. The quake enlarged existing cracks in the building and created new cracks in the roof of the dwelling.

Aerial view of Puerto Ferro Lighthouse in 1978
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Between 1941 and 1942, the U.S. Navy expropriated two-thirds of Vieques Island, including the area surrounding Puerto Ferro Lighthouse. Starting in 1948, the Navy began using a portion of the island for bombing exercises. Over 23,000 bombs, the majority of which contained explosives, were dropped on Vieques in 1998. Then on April 19, 1999, David Sanes, a civilian employee of the Navy, was killed while on duty at a military observation point when a bomb exploded just 30 feet from him and 1.5 miles from its intended target.

After this accidental death, local residents started practicing civil disobedience by setting up camps inside the bombing range. The protesters gained the support of several political activists, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Al Sharpton both of whom were imprisoned for trespassing on the Navy’s property on Vieques. During his prison term, Kennedy’s wife Mary gave birth to the couple’s sixth child, whom they named Aidan Caohman Vieques Kennedy.

On June 13, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the Navy would suspend its bombing in 2003 and leave Vieques. The citizens of Vieques held a celebration on May 1, 2003, when the military ended its nearly sixty-year-long control of most of the island. The area around Puerto Ferro Lighthouse is now part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. While a good portion of the refuge remains off-limits, the peninsula on which the lighthouse sits and a few spectacular beaches nearby are open to the public.

Today, Puerto Ferro Lighthouse is missing its lantern room and is in dire need of restoration. When the lighthouse was abandoned, an automated skeletal tower, shown in the black and white photograph above, was erected adjacent to the lighthouse. The tower supported a beacon that produced a white flash every four seconds, but eventually succumbed to corrosion and collapsed, leaving no navigational aid on the point.

Keepers:

  • Head: Lorenza Castro (at least 1901 – at least 1903), Esteban Parra Furniz (at least 1905 – at least 1911), Ramon Romero (at least 1912 – 1916), Simeon Martin (1916 – 1918), Jose Escalara-Velez (at least 1919), Rufino Flores Graniel (at least 1920), Jose Francisco C. Correa (at least 1921), Jose M. Velez (1925 – 1930).
  • Assistant: Jamie V. Arroyo (at least 1901), J. Gimenez Liano (at least 1903), Antonio S. Cuenca (at least 1905 – at least 1907), Robustian Reguera (at least 1908 – at least 1909), Jose Manuel Agostini (at least 1911), Agustin S. Cruz (1912 – 1913), Runfino F. Graniel (at least 1915 – at least 1917), Jose F. Carrero (at least 1919), Pedro Albino Gonzalez (1920 – 1921), Jose E. Carrero (1921 – ).

Photo Gallery: 1 2

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various year.
  2. “Puerto Ferro Light,” Kevin Murphy, Historic American Engineering Record, August, 1984.

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