Description: The Culebra archipelago consists of a collection of just over twenty rocks, cays, and islands, situated eighteen miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico and halfway to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Culebrita Island is the easternmost island in both the archipelago and all of Puerto Rico and was thus a natural spot for a lighthouse to mark the Virgin Passage, separating Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
When work on the stone edifice began, the laborers threatened to abandon their work if not supplied with shoes to protect their feet from the burning effect of the hydraulic lime used in the plaster. Shoes were soon provided for the men, but the donkeys’ hooves were showing signs of irritation. Having grown attached to the donkeys, the men would wash the animals’ hooves each night with some of their precious allotment of fresh water.
The plans for the Culebrita Lighthouse called for a unique T-shaped stone structure with the tower being centered along the vertical portion of the ‘T’. The bottom portion of the ‘T’ was an oil room and storeroom, and on the opposite side of the tower, a corridor led to a pair of identical keeper’s quarters, one on the left and one on the right. Each apartment consisted of three rooms measuring 10’ x 12’ and a kitchen/dining room measuring approximately 13’ x 15’.
The lantern room, accessed by a spiral stairway, housed a third-and-a-half-order lens manufactured in France by Sautter, Lemonnier, & Cie. The focal plane of the light was 305 feet above high water. A door in the lantern room led outside to a cement gallery that was surrounded by a cast-iron balustrade.
Julio L. Rengel, keeper, and Vicente Garcia, assistant keeper, of Culebrita Island Light Station, P.R., for the energetic manner in which they worked during the prevalence of a hurricane which passed over the island of Culebrita October 9 and 10, 1916, to keep the light burning. The keeper and the assistant keeper filled the gap in the lantern left by broken glass with planks and blankets and replaced the broken glass during the day so as to avoid any interruption to the service of the light.
In 1920, Keeper Simeon Martin was commended for rescuing two men whose boat was wrecked on the reefs near Culebrita Island Light Station. A strong earthquake was felt at the lighthouse on August 1, 1927 and caused the light apparatus to oscillate but no damage was done.
In 1959 the U.S. Coast Guard sealed up the lighthouse with concrete blocks and cement. The U.S. Navy started using the lighthouse as an observation post during the latter part of the 1960s and maintained a presence on the small island until 1975, when the lighthouse was destaffed for the final time. The Coast Guard still maintains a solar powered light in the lantern room, but obviously does not perform much maintenance on the structure as evidenced by the entire lack of glass in the lantern room.
The Culebrita Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historical Monuments of the United States on October 22, 1981, but nothing is being done to preserve the deteriorating structure. Vandals and multiple hurricanes, such as Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995, have caused significant damage to the lighthouse. Doors, windows, and the cupola are missing, and part of the roof has collapsed.
The Culebra Foundation, founded in 1994, has formed a small museum on Culebra and is trying to spearhead a movement to save the Culebrita Lighthouse, the only remaining Spanish-era structure in the Culebra archipelago. The lighthouse and the surrounding four acres of land were transferred from the General Services Administration to the Municipality of Culebra in 2002. According to the foundation, the local government appropriated over two million dollars for preserving the lighthouse, but disgracefully, the significant sum was mishandled and little has been done to save the historic structure.
Located on the southern summit of Culebrita Island, just off the eastern shore of Culebra Island. The lighthouse is owned by the Municipality of Culebra. Grounds/tower open.
The lighthouse is owned by the Municipality of Culebra. Grounds/tower open.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
My trip to visit the Culebrita Lighthouse was definitely a highlight of my trip to Puerto Rico. It started one morning at the Isla Grande airport where a group of about eight of us was escorted from the terminal out on the tarmac to board a small prop plane. Four passengers were loaded into one side of the airplane, and the rest of us were led to the other side where the pilot noticed a liquid steadily dripping from the airplane’s wing. This discovery caused enough concern to cause all of us to be taken back into the terminal, but not ten minutes later we were loaded onto the same plane with the same drip without any explanation. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, I finally asked the pilot if the liquid was fuel, and when he replied in the affirmative, I questioned if it was safe to fly in that condition. He, of course, answered yes, and I quickly reasoned that if he were willing to fly the plane and risk his life, it must not be too serious.
See our List of Lighthouses in Puerto Rico
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.