Rincon, Puerto Rico History: The Lighthouse at Punta Higuero
The lighthouse that you see in Rincón is not the original one. The first lighthouse was inaugurated on January 17, 1893, by the Spanish colonial government. It was to last only 28 years. The current lighthouse was completed in 1921. These historic pictures show both lighthouses, at different times of their history.
The Punta Higüero lighthouse was designed by José María Sainz and built on high ground at the westernmost point of the island to guide ships navigating Mona Passage. While other contemporary lighthouses were of the neoclassic style, the Rincon and Guánica lighthouses had elaborate brick cornices and parapets. Stone walls were covered with white stucco which imitated the baseboard rocks. Its Mediterranean appearance came from an elaborate combination of exposed and indented brick work in the faces, around doors, windows and corners. The castle look was further emphasized by reddish stucco imitating stone-work on all facades and the very elaborate exposed brick cornice topped by a parapet built in lace-like brickwork.
The original lighthouse measured 50 feet long by 28 feet wide, with a 32 foot octagonal tower, with the seal of the Spanish Corps of Road Engineers over the entrance. The tower's lantern room originally housed a sixth-order Barbier and Bernard Fresnel lens with six flash panels, which displayed a light at a focal plane of sixty-nine feet that projected light for up to eight miles. An oil lamp was used as the first light source, but this was upgraded to a more powerful oil-vapor lamp in 1913.
The Lighthouse was severely damaged by an earthquake that struck the area on October 11, 1918, but it was not affected by the tsunami associated with the quake due to its bluff-top location. The nearby lighthouse at Punta Borinquen was rendered unusable by the double blow of the earthquake and tsunami. An inspection of the lighthouse following the tremor found two serious cracks in the tower that extended clear through the brickwork and were located two and eight feet above the roof of the dwelling. Other cracks were found in the arches above the windows and doors in the exterior walls, and a great deal of plaster had fallen from the walls. The tower was reinforced and continued operating until 1921. The dwelling was vacated, no longer considered safe for occupancy by the keepers, and $30,000 was requested to construct a replacement lighthouse out of reinforced concrete. In July, 1919, Congress appropriated $24,000 for a replacement lighthouse.
The new lighthouse was built with reinforced concrete and consists of a cylindrical shaft 12 feet in diameter with walls 1 foot thick, with a stepped base and supported on a square reinforced foundation 3 feet thick. A spiral stairway of precast concrete steps extends from base to top, the inner ends of the steps being supported by a hollow concrete column. The focal plane of the light is 55 feet above the ground, and 93 feet above high water.
The new keepers residence was a frame structure covered with asbestos shingles on the sides and roof. It contained a double set of quarters of four rooms each, with porches at each end. The dwelling was 63 feet long and 26 feet wide. Although the original intention was to install a helical bar lantern, like those used in the Aguadilla and San Juan lighthouses, the first lighthouse’s lantern was tentatively installed but never replaced as planned.
The replacement lighthouse was completed in 1921 was placed in commission on January 12, 1922. It was constructed near the first lighthouse, which was then demolished. The lighthouse was automated in 1933. The keepers residence and other structures were later destroyed by fire. A buoy light (shown in the pictures) was later installed later and used until 1978. It is now kept at the Coast Guard Museum in San Juan. Today, the beacon is produced by a small light fed by solar panels. After many years of abandonment, the Lighthouse was repaired and a beautiful park was built around it. The Punta Higüero Lighthouse and El Faro Park are very popular spots for tourists, events, surfing and whale watching.