Lighthouse at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lighthouse at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

Lighthouse at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Four lighthouses have served to mark the entrance to Puerto San Juan, one of the most important ports in the Spanish Empire. The first Puerto San Juan Lighthouse, and the first in all of Puerto Rico, was reportedly built in 1846 and exhibited a light using five parabolic reflectors.

When this structure required replacement, a lighthouse was constructed in 1876 atop the walls of Fort San Felipe del Morro, site of the current light. The new tower featured an octagonal brick base that supported an octagonal cast-iron tower, painted gray and white. The base was roughly ten-feet-tall and the tower approximately twenty-feet-tall, giving the light a focal plane of 171 feet above high water.

The cast-iron tower was destroyed during the Battle of San Juan, part of the Spanish-American War, which occurred in May of 1898 when Admiral Sampson arrived with a fleet of twelve ships and briefly bombarded the city. The Americans gained control of Puerto Rico after the Treaty of Paris was ratified on December 10, 1898. Ensign W.R. Gherardi of the U.S. Navy was put in charge of the Puerto Rico lighthouses on January 24, 1899, and he immediately began work on an octagonal tower, built of reinforced concrete, to replace the cast-iron one. The light from El Morro Lighthouse began burning again on March 22, 1899.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lighthouse at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

After a few years, the concrete tower developed a serious crack and was torn down and replaced with the present three-story tower in 1908. The Lighthouse Board adopted a Spanish-influenced design for this brick tower, the top of which is surrounded by a crenelated parapet with an ornamental guardhouse at each corner, similar to those seen on the fort. A third-order Fresnel lens, manufactured in France by Sautter, Lemonnier, & Cie and equipped with eight flash panels, was installed in the tower’s helical bar lantern room. A 200-pound weight, suspended in the central column of the tower’s cast-iron spiral staircase, powered a clockwork mechanism that controlled the revolution of the lens. An electrical motor replaced this drive mechanism in 1932.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lighthouse at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Old San Juan

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

The present El Morro Lighthouse was originally painted gray, but by 1937 it had been painted a cream color with brown trimmings. In preparation for the quincentennial celebration of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World, parking lots and paved roads surrounding El Morro were removed, and the lighthouse was repaired and restored to its original appearance by the National Park Service.

Click here for a guide to over 750 lighthouses in America (including Puerto Rico) that you can visit.

4 Comments

  1. I have been to Puerto Rico 3 times and have managed to miss these. Thanks for capturing these so well and I will make sure to visit the next time I am there.
    Len Saltiel recently posted..Cascading WalkwayMy Profile

  2. These are very nice images, Mark. I like how the flags are caught in the stiff breeze and that colorful wall in the last image provides a nice contrast to the lighthouse itself.

    Nice bit of background history, too.
    Jimi Jones recently posted..Road to SpringMy Profile

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