During the late 19th century, the Spanish government in Puerto Rico built about 15 lighthouses to strategically protect the island’s surrounding waters and the ships sailing in them.
In 1898, one of these lighthouses, the Guánica, spotted American vessels heading towards the coast of Rincón. The harbour of Guanica is considered to afford the best anchorage on this coast, and it was an important port with its exports at the time of the survey including sugar, coffee, maize, cotton and starch.
The lighthouse was located at Punta Meseta, the entrance to Guánica Bay, between the lighthouses at Cabo Rojo and Isla Caja de Muertos, literally Coffin Island.
Standing 54 m tall, the lighted tower could be seen from up to 8 miles away.
The one-story lighthouse was built in the neo-classical style, with a red brick octagonal tower in the center for its lone keeper, and a spiral staircase leading down to the lantern room.
At the north side of the building was the main entrance, while the storage room was located at the south.
The west side held two bedrooms and a bathroom, while the east side held a living room, an engineer’s room, and the kitchen/dining room.
It was July 25, 1898 when Robustiano Rivera, the keeper at the time, spotted vessels from the American troops.
Soon, he alerted the town of Guánica which allowed most of the citizens to flee before the beginning of the Spanish-American War.
The assault ceased by August when Spain sued for peace, and the war officially ended by December with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.
The U.S. Lighthouse Service was directed to take charge of all Puerto Rican lighthouses on May 1, 1900, and it soon inspected all the stations and planned for any necessary repairs.
The following description of the work done on the Guanica Lighthouse was included in the Annual Report of the Light-House Board for 1901: “The walls, ceilings, floors, and exterior walks were repaired with cement. A stone rubble wall was built to protect the dwelling from the wash of sand and gravel during the rains.”
In 1914, Keeper Domingo Suarez-Rosa assisted the captain of a pilot boat that had capsized just offshore from the lighthouse. He turned control of Guanica Lighthouse over to his son, Domingo Suarez-Cruz, in 1922, after having been in charge of the lighthouse for over a decade.
Unfortunately in 1937 the structure began to decline, starting with an earthquake that damaged the lantern room floor, rendering it unsafe.
Its lights went out for good in 1950.
Today, the Guánica Lighthouse remains abandoned and in ruins. However, some of its original features can still be appreciated, including a cistern and a well behind the structure, as well as the white and gray Genoa marble slabs used in the flooring.
Like other abandoned places on the island, plans to restore the structure have been brought up, but so far nothing has come out of it.
On January 7, 2020, an earthquake caused most of what was standing of the lighthouse to collapse, and the ruins will now most likely slowly deteriorate until little is left of the structure.
Two of Puerto Rico’s lighthouses have been lost and unless action is taken, the Guánica Lighthouse could be next.
Images from web – Google Research