After the United States gained control of Puerto Rico through the Spanish-American war in 1898, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was directed to take charge of all Puerto Rican lighthouses on May 1, 1900. Inspections were made of all the light stations and any necessary repairs were carried out. The following description of Cabo Rojo Lighthouse was included in the Annual Report of the Light-House Board for 1901.
This light is of the third order, flashes white every minute, is 121 feet above high water, is visible 18 miles, and is shown from an hexagonal dark-gray tower attached to a one-story flat-roofed gray dwelling, which has green blinds and white trimmings. The tower is 40 feet high from its base, was commenced in 1878 and was finished in 1882 by the Spanish, at a cost of 14,900 pesos. It is used to guide along the southerly coast of Puerto Rico and to the Mona Passage. The lamp and revolving machinery were overhauled and repaired as practicable, but they are still in bad condition. The floors and walls were cemented, the plumbing and sewer were overhauled and two bevel-gear wheels for the lens clock were furnished, and the clock was repaired. In February 1901, the lamp, which gave out, was replaced temporarily with a regulation type table stand lamp, which is still in position, awaiting a new lamp, which is to be sent from the general light-house depot. A duplicate of the machinery, which has been ordered from France, is expected to arrive quite soon.
The layout of Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, which was the third lighthouse built in Puerto Rico, is very similar to those at Arecibo and Cabo San Juan. The one-story dwelling measures 90’x 37’, and its entrance is located on the north side of the structure, opposite the tower. On the left and right side of the entrance hall or vestibule were doors that opened into identical five-room apartments for the keepers. The five rooms consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen/dining room, a bathroom, and a living room. Walking straight through the vestibule, one would find two rooms just before the steps that led up to the tower entrance. On the left was a storeroom, while an engineering room was on the right. A spiral stairway in the storeroom led to a circular oil room with a vaulted roof positioned beneath the tower. Just east of the lighthouse is a cistern, used to store precious water for the keepers.
On August 11, 1915, a hurricane, which would strike Galveston, Texas a few days later and kill roughly 300 people, passed just off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Keeper Jose Escalera Velez and his assistant, Arturo Machicote Ferrer, were commended by the Lighthouse Service for rescuing three men, who were out in a small boat about a mile from the station, and caring for them until the storm passed.
In 1959, the living quarters were updated with modern bathroom facilities that were installed in one of the two bedrooms in each apartment. The storeroom and engineering room were converted into kitchens, and the rooms in the southeast and southwest corners that had formerly functioned as kitchens were made into bedrooms.
The keepers did not get to enjoy these upgraded accommodations for long as the light was automated in 1967 and the lighthouse was sealed up to prevent vandalism of its interior. Deprived of its keepers, the lighthouse steadily fell into disrepair, until a three million dollar renovation was initiated in 2002. Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, returned to near original condition and painted in its historically accurate colors, opened to the public in March 2007.
While most lighthouses that are open to the public nowadays are typically a historical museum focusing on the story of the lighthouse and its keeper, Cabo Rojo Lighthouse is more of an art museum. An artist decorated the interior of the lighthouse using Homer’s Odyssey for inspiration. The walls of the various rooms are supposedly covered with pages from the Odyssey (though one of the few pages I found in English is actually from Walt Whitman’s Democractic Vistas). Affixed to these papered walls are chairs, to each of which with is strapped a different edition of the Odyssey. Overhead, an audiovisual system is capable of projecting words from the Odyssey on the walls, while playing aloud readings from the epic poem.