Puerto Rico’s system of lighthouses consists of 15 lighthouses, most of which were built during the last 25 years of the 19th century. Their purpose was to serve as guides and protectors for the maritime routes that surrounded the island. Because of its geographic location, Puerto Rico has been considered, throughout its history, a strategic site. In the waters surrounding the island, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet and provide easy access to the Gulf of Mexico and South America.
During the 19th century, Puerto Rico experienced great socio-economic development. In the field of commercial agriculture, the exportation of sugar, coffee and tobacco increased considerably. Simultaneously, the island came to depend more and more on international commerce for its sustenance. For the economy to prosper, improvements were needed in communications and transportation. Beginning in the 1820s, the Spanish Crown began a series of projects that included the construction of highways, roads, canals, ports and lighthouses, as well as the installation of telegraph lines.
In 1869, the Spanish government approved the first maritime lighting plan for Puerto Rico, to serve as a guide for ships navigating its waters. Fourteen lighthouses were planned for construction around the island. This original plan was revised several times, in 1882, 1885 and finally in 1892. The architecture and classification of each lighthouse was specified. There would be primary and secondary lights, the latter serving as intermediaries between the primary ones.
The lighthouses were located on prominent and isolated sites with good visibility toward the ocean. The architecture of these lighthouses was a neo-classical style, with a rectangular first level built of brick and stone with a vestibule in the center that divided the structure into two equal parts. These served as living quarters for the lighthouse keeper and warehouse space. The towers could be internal, external or attached to the first level and were generally hexagonal or octagonal.
The classification of the lighthouses of Puerto Rico is according to their order, in other words, the distance between the light and the group of lenses. The orders of classification, six in total, not only refer to the characteristics of the lens, but also to the structure in general and its use. Typically, first and second order lighthouses have a light that reaches further, to warn ships of their proximity to land, and those of lesser orders, whose light range is more limited, mark smaller ports and bays.
When Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States in 1898, the system of lighthouses passed into the hands of the U.S. Coast Guard, which was responsible of installing automatic lighting systems in many of the lighthouses during the 20th century. Today, 11 lighthouses continue working and only four are inactive. As time went by, the lighthouses deteriorated, but in recent decades, both the state and federal governments have shown interest in preserving these monuments, and there have been several restoration projects, such as with the lights in Arecibo, Cabo Rojo and Arroyo.
The first lighthouse built in Puerto Rico was at of the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in San Juan in 1846. The other lighthouses are located in Aguadilla, Arecibo, Arroyo, Cabo Rojo, Caja de Muertos island, Culebra, Fajardo, Guánica, Mona, Maunabo, Ponce, Rincón and Vieques. The U.S. government built a lighthouse in Cabras Island, near the coast of Ceiba, but it was demolished in 1966.
The lighthouses of Puerto Rico have been considered historic monuments since 1981, when they were included in the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C. Later, in 2000, they were included in the National Register of Historic Properties of Puerto Rico.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: The Lighthouse System of Puerto Rico, 1846-1979. State Office of Historic Conservation.
Sánchez Terry, Miguel Angel. Los faros españoles de ultramar, Madrid: Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, Centro de Publicaciones, 1992
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 04, 2014.
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