Texas Maritime Museum

Sabine Bank Lighthouse

Maritime History, Navigation

Sabine Bank Lighthouse Historic Photo and Today

Sabine Bank Lighthouse

Constructed in 1906, the Sabine Bank Lighthouse (also frequently called 18 mile light) was erected to guide vessels navigating the challenging waters of the Sabine Bank, situated 16 or so miles off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Sabine Bank is a mud reef that is just 20 feet deep and cuts across the channel leading into Port Arthur. In the late 1800s the US Lighthouse Board recommended a lighthouse to warn the large vessels visiting Port Arthur of the danger. Between 1899 and 1901 three ships ran aground on the bank.

Not to be confused with the taller Sabine Pass lighthouse in Louisiana waters, the Sabine Bank lighthouse was built using “caisson” construction, involving a series of large watertight cylinders sunk into the ground and filled with concrete. This was the first Caisson lighthouse in the Gulf of Mexico. The lower portions were assembled onshore and towed offshore in the summer of 1904. A wharf was constructed to house supplies and workers. Once built, the lighthouse was painted red and outfitted with a Daboll trumpet for a fog signal. The beacon was 72 feet high. On March 15th, 1906 the Fresnel style lens was lit.

Due to its isolated location, keepers spent long shifts at the light before relief would come, making it difficult to staff. In 1915 Keeper Albert Modawell and his assistants rode out a hurricane at the station, the structure was completely washed over by waves, causing damage and contaminating the freshwater supply. They managed to keep the light burning for days until they could be rescued. They returned just a few days later. Keeper Modawell later had another incident when a USCG Cutter spotted him adrift in a small boat, he had left the lighthouse to get medicine and lost engine power. He spent 24 hours without food or water adrift offshore.

Due to the difficulty staffing the lighthouse, the decision was made to automate the light and in 1922 an acetylene beacon was installed. Sabine Bank eventually was staffed again temporarily, when it was used as a World War II observation post. The lighthouse saw a few more upgrades over the years, but by 2001 the structure was falling into disrepair. The Coast Guard solicited bids for a new 55 foot tall skeleton tower on the main deck, although many were sad to see the iconic “spark plug” shaped light change, the decision was made to make servicing the beacon easier and safer. In 2002 the work to reconfigure the light began and the top section of the lighthouse was removed, the lantern room and top section were refurbished and can be seen today at the Lions Park in Sabine Pass, Texas. The original lens can be seen at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas.

Original Plans from Sabine Bank Lighthouse (national archives)
Sabine Bank Lighthouse and a lighthouse tender
Demolition (Astron contracting)

Photos: US Lighthouse Society Archives (color), National Archives (plans & B/W), Astron Contracting
Information sourced from Houston Chronicle Archives, Lighthousefriends, Library of Congress

Related: Read about Halfmoon Reef Lighthouse

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Lighthouse, Navigation, Sabine Bank Lighthouse, Sabine Pass

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