The U.S. Postal Service continues its popular series of lighthouse stamps by artist Howard Koslow with the 2009 issuance of five Gulf Coast Lighthouses stamps: Matagorda Island, TX; Sabine Pass, LA; Biloxi, MS; Sand Island, AL and Fort Jefferson, FL.
The Gulf Coast extends about 1,000 miles from Key West, FL, to Corpus Christi, TX. For more than 150 years, lighthouses have guided ships and other sailing vessels through this picturesque but dangerous stretch of water. Known as "hurricane alley," the Gulf Coast weathers many powerful storms each year, including Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region in 2005. In addition, the land along the coast is swampy and marshy in many places and given to erosion, making it doubly difficult for lighthouses to withstand heavy rains and winds. The five lighthouses featured on the stamps are some of the few that remain standing.
Matagorda Island, Texas
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, Matagorda Island Lighthouse has stood proudly for more than a century on the northeast end of Matagorda Island in what is today Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area near Port O'Connor, TX. Automated in 1956, the conical tower features black exterior paint and a solar-powered light.
In 1847, Congress authorized funds to build a lighthouse on Matagorda Island so that vessels could sail safely through the bay to the port city of Indianola. Construction on the original iron lighthouse was completed in 1852 and a third-order Fresnel lens installed six years later. Damaged during the Civil War and threatened by erosion, the tower was soon dismantled. The new cast-iron lighthouse was built farther inland in 1873.
Sabine Pass, Louisiana
Construction on the lighthouse at Sabine (pronounced suh-BEEN) Pass, LA, was completed in 1856. Erected on soft, marshy ground, the octagonal tower features eight buttresses that stabilize the heavy brick structure and give it a distinct missile-like shape. Deactivated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1952, the lighthouse is currently closed to the public and its original third-order Fresnel lens has been removed. Since 2001, the Cameron Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization, has worked to preserve and restore the tower.
Sabine Pass Lighthouse stands in southwest Louisiana at the point where the Sabine and Neches rivers meet and flow into the Gulf of Mexico. With one brief exception, its light shone for nearly a century. It was extinguished during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Now faded, bands of black paint were added to the white exterior in the 1930s. Forty years later, fire destroyed most of the outbuildings, including the original keeper's house. The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Of all the lighthouses that once stood along the Mississippi coast, Biloxi Lighthouse is the only one still standing. The white, cast-iron tower sits on a brick foundation in the middle of U.S. Route 90, a scenic highway that runs through Biloxi along the Gulf Coast. Hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, the conical tower suffered damage to its interior brick lining. The City of Biloxi - which maintains the lighthouse - plans to repair the lining and replace the door, which wind and water shook loose during the storm.
Portions of Biloxi Lighthouse were made in Baltimore, MD, and then transported to Biloxi. The tower was assembled and erected in 1848, making it one of the first cast-iron lighthouses erected in the South. The U.S. Coast Guard operated the lighthouse from 1939 to 1968, when it deeded the tower to the City of Biloxi. The following year, Hurricane Camille destroyed the keeper's house. The lighthouse was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Sand Island, Alabama
Sand Island Lighthouse is located in the Gulf of Mexico, about three miles south of the entrance to Mobile Bay. Once the central attraction on a 400-acre island, the lighthouse now stands alone, its stone foundation completely surrounded by water. Pounding waves and erosion have reduced the island's mass to less than one acre. Today the town of Dauphin Island manages the lighthouse and, in cooperation with the Alabama Lighthouse Association, oversees its daily operation as well as restoration efforts.
A 55-foot-high lighthouse was established on Sand Island in 1838, but a much taller tower replaced it in 1859. Confederate forces destroyed the second lighthouse during the Civil War. First lit in 1873, the current 131-foot-tall conical tower is made of local brick and was an active aid to navigation for 60 years. Automated in 1921, the lighthouse was deactivated in 1933. Its original second-order Fresnel lens is currently housed in the museum at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site in Gulf Shores, AL.
Fort Jefferson, Florida
Also known as Garden Key Lighthouse, the Fort Jefferson Lighthouse stands on top of the brick parapet in Fort Jefferson, which encloses most of Garden Key, FL. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the 19th-century fort and lighthouse are part of Dry Tortugas National Park. The lighthouse - which is made of iron and painted black - was erected in 1876 and automated in 1912. For more than 40 years, the light from this hexagonal tower helped warn sea traffic away from dangerous shoals and reefs. The light was deactivated in 1921 but currently acts as a harbor light, guiding vessels safely into the anchorage outside Fort Jefferson.
Fort Jefferson Lighthouse was not the first of its kind to be built on Garden Key. Twenty years before construction began on the fort in 1846, a brick lighthouse had been built on the small island. Badly damaged by a hurricane in 1873, the original tower was replaced three years later with a new lighthouse erected about 90 feet away. The foundation of the original tower is still visible inside the fort.