During the early 1890s, Theodore Roosevelt collaborated with U.S. naval historian and strategist Alfred Mahan to win adherents to their shared belief that if the United States could establish a formidable naval presence near Windward Passage, they could control the Caribbean, much like the British used their military outpost at Gibraltar to dominate the Mediterranean.
On June 10, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, a U.S. marine battalion went ashore at Guantanamo Bay to secure the harbor as a coaling station for blockading the Spanish flotilla in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, forty-five miles to the west. The Battle of Santiago de Cuba, the largest naval engagement of the war, occurred on July 3, when the Spanish squadron attempted to leave the harbor. American forces destroyed or grounded five of the six Spanish ships, and the captain of the armored cruiser Cristóbal Colón, the only vessel to escape, scuttled her when the Americans finally caught up to her.
With the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, while Cuba became a U.S. protectorate. A U.S. military government controlled Cuba until it was granted independence on May 20, 1902, but the United States established a perpetual lease for Guantanamo Bay. At the time of occupation of Cuba by the military government on January 1, 1899, there were seventeen working lighthouses, and over the next few months eight additional lights were either built or returned to service. One of the new lights erected in 1899 was a metal tower at Windward Point (Punta de Barlovento) that displayed a fixed red light from a fourth-order lens.
In 1901, Captain Lucien Young, Captain of the Port of Havana, visited the lighthouse at Guantanamo Bay as part of a tour of Cuba’s lighthouse, and gave the following report of its condition:
Guantanamo light-house is situated on Punta de Barlovento, the western point of the entrance, and exhibits from a tower 23.1 meters above the sea, of the fourth order, a fixed red light, visible 14 miles and is in good condition.
The tower is of iron, cylindrical in shape, is new and in perfect condition, except that the light gray paint with which it was originally colored should be renewed, as some rust specks are shown in spots.
Windward Point Lighthouse in 1919
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The dwelling is a small single story rectangular wooden structure. It is entirely too small for the families of the keepers who occupy it, and should be enlarged. I would suggest that this enlargement be made by the addition at each end of a covered surface of from four to six meters, the foundations of which are already there.
The keepers are efficient, competent, tidy and attentive, and the records are well kept.
The entire harbor and bay, inner and outer, has recently been thoroughly surveyed and charted by the United States Surveying Vessel, and, with the sea marks already in place, I find that, with the addition of two red nun, two black can and two buoys with channels on each side, will complete the aids to navigation of this bay.
On December 29, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt directed the Department of Commerce and Labor to take charge of the lighthouses and buoyage within the naval reservation at Guantanamo Bay. The Lighthouse Board took charge of the navigational aids at Guantanamo Bay the following year and requested $30,000 from Congress to establish and maintain additional lights, build a lighthouse depot and dock, and to cover the necessary supplies and salaries.
Guantanamo Bay was first placed under control of the Third District, which included New York City, but in 1905, it was transferred to the Seventh District, which included parts of Florida. An act approved on March 3, 1905 appropriated $25,000 for Guantanamo Bay, and with these funds work began on establishing a lighthouse depot and improving navigational aids in the harbor. During the next year, Hicacal Beach Range Lights were established across the bay, and in 1907, Fisherman Point Range Lights were established about two miles from Windward Point.
On July 1, 1918, $14,000 was appropriated for building a double-dwelling at Windward Point and for erecting new towers for electric lights to replace the old oil range lights. The dwelling at Windward Point was completed in February 1920, and the new range lights were placed in commission in December of that year.
Arthur C.E. Hamblett was in charge of the lights at Guantanamo Bay during the 1910s, after having previously served at Fowey Rocks, Pensacola, Sand Key, Carysfort Reef, American Shoals, and Rebecca Shoal. A Lighthouse Service Bulletin noted that Keeper Hamblett had “devoted his energies to studying and obtaining diplomas in mechanotherapy and suggestive therapeutics.” Mechanotherapy would be known today as therapeutic massage while suggestive therapeutics used hypnosis to improve health. While at Windward Point, Keeper Hamblett studied Esperanto, an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language constructed by L.L. Zamenhof in the 1880s.
Windward Point Lighthouse was deactivated in 1955, when a light was established atop a nearby skeletal tower. Coast Guard personnel lived in the residence at the lighthouse until 1995, when the dwelling was converted into a museum that houses photographs and memorabilia from the Spanish American War to the present.
The lighthouse was in rather poor condition in 2015, when McEntire Design began work on the tower. The lighthouse was surrounded by scaffolding, which allowed workers to sandblast the structure and determine what needs to be done to restore it. By March 2017, the lighthouse and keepers quarters had been refurbished. The quarters now serve as a historical center where artifacts on the station are kept. The tower should open by the end of Summer 2017.