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Stamp of Approval One of a new postage set, the Matagorda Island landmark illuminates Gulf Coast heritage by Gerald Moorhead, FAIA

(c)2008 USPS

First lit in 1852, the lighthouse on Matagorda Island is one of five included in a new set of commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. “Gulf Coast Lighthouses, ” which went on sale in July, also includes the historic lighthouses at Sabine Pass, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; Sand Island, Ala.; and Fort Jefferson, Fla. The fourth in an ongoing series, the new set is preceded by Pacific Lighthouses (2007), Southeastern Lighthouses (2003), and Great Lakes Lighthouses (1995), all designed by Howard E. Paine and illustrated with paintings by Howard Koslow. One of only five surviving lighthouses on the Texas Gulf Coast and one of two that remain illuminated (with the Lydia Ann Light at Aransas Pass), the Matagorda Island Light was the first of three lighthouses built in Texas following statehood (including Bolivar Point and Point Isabel) to protect the entrance to Matagorda Bay and the port of Indianola. The original 79-foot-tall, black-painted, round and tapered, cast-iron tower was lengthened to 85 feet in 1873 when it was relocated. The move was necessitated because of coastal erosion and the need to make repairs to damage caused by a Confederate attempt to destroy the lighthouse in 1863. The extension is visibly discernable, as it does not continue the original taper. The structure consists of nearly ½-inch-thick cast-iron plates braced and bolted to a heavy central steel column by the internal spiral staircase. Its third-order Fresnel lens, preserved in the Calhoun County Historical Museum in Port Lavaca, was visible 16 miles out to sea. The Matagorda Island Light is very similar to the Bolivar Point Light, marking the entry to Galveston Bay, built in 1873. Also clad in castiron plates, the Bolivar tower, however, has a brick core as the internal structure, making Matagorda’s all-steel structure more technologically advanced. The Matagorda Island Lighthouse is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard with a remote-controlled, solarpowered light installed in 1977. Located amidst the inlets and swamps at the northern end of Matagorda Island, it is not easy to get to, accessible only by private boat, so the best view of it may be the one to be had on this new postage stamp. Gerald Moorhead, FAIA, is a TA contributing editor


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