Texas Maritime Museum

Bolivar Point Lighthouse

Maritime History, Navigation

Bolivar Point Lighthouse

The Bolivar Point Lighthouse

The history of the Bolivar Point Lighthouse is a tale woven with threads of resilience, tragedy, and perseverance, spanning over a century of service and weathering storms both literal and figurative.

In 1845, the Republic of Texas earmarked funds for a lighthouse on Galveston Island’s eastern end, but after Texas was annexed into the United States the federal government took over the project. Bolivar Point, on the western end of the Bolivar Peninsula, became the chosen site for the lighthouse. Finally, in 1851 after delays, construction commenced, and by Christmas 1852, the light began to guide mariners, overseen by Keeper Aaron Burns.

However, during the Civil War the lighthouse was dismantled, the original structure has not been found and it is assumed that the iron was used for wartime needs. A temporary wooden tower was erected after the war, later replaced by a sturdier iron tower in 1872, equipped with a third-order Fresnel lens. The tower was painted its iconic black and white color. 10 years later a brighter second order lens was installed.

The light struggled to find a good keeper, it wasn’t until Harry C. Claiborne’s appointment in 1894 that stability returned, with his commendable service of 24 years recognized through various accolades.

The lighthouse became a beacon of hope during natural disasters, sheltering hundreds during the devastating hurricanes of 1900 and 1915. Despite sustaining damage, it stood firm and kept those lucky enough to find shelter inside safe. According to an account in the Galveston Daily News, the floor of the tower had neck-deep water. The 1915 storm inflicted even more significant damage than the 1900 storm on the lighthouse, destroying all the outbuildings and heavily damaging the keeper’s dwelling. When the new dwellings were built they constructed them upon iron pilings to keep above any future storm surge.

In November 1917 Fort San Jacinto accidentally bombarded the lighthouse after a miscalculation, and the tower was damaged.

Changing times brought new challenges. The advent of the Galveston Jetty Lighthouse marked the beginning of the end for Bolivar Point, as its light dimmed for the last time in 1933, succumbing to technological advancements and economic pressures.

The lighthouse changed hands, becoming a private property owned by Rancher Elmer V. Boyt, his family still owns the property to this day. The third order Fresnel lens sits in the Smithsonian Museum.

The 1970 film My Sweet Charlie, starring Patty Duke, was filmed at the lighthouse.

Descendents of the first private owners of the lighthouse, Mark Boyt and Michael Maxwell, established a foundation to preserve and restore the lighthouse. In 2018 it was determined that the restoration would cost $2.5 million dollars. As of 2023 that cost has increased to $5 million, but at last the work has begun. When complete the Foundation hopes to make the lighthouse open to the public.

Today, although rusted, the Bolivar Point Lighthouse stands as a testament to bygone eras and the maritime heritage of the Upper Texas Coast. From 1872 until it was retired the light only dimmed for two days, after the 1915 storm, when its oil supplies floated away. The Bolivar Point Light remains a source of pride for the region.

Learn more about the restoration here: https://bolivarpointlighthouse.org/

The Bolivar Point Lighthouse, Historical Photo from the USCG Archives (undated)
Bolivar Point Lighthouse Today
Bolivar Point Lighthouse today

Bolivar Point Lighthouse lens in Smithsonian Museum
Lens. Fresnel lighthouse lens. In the Smithsonian Museum TR*335567.

Information sourced from Lighthouse Friends, Wikipedia, and 12newsnow

Related: Read about Halfmoon Reef Lighthouse

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Bolivar Point Lighthouse, Lighthouse, Navigation, Sabine Pass

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