The Bolivar Lighthouse was built by the federal government in 1852 and was later dismantled by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. It was rebuilt in 1872 and was the beacon that guided thousands of mariners into port until 1933.
The lighthouse withstood three of the worst storms hitting the peninsula; the 1900 and 1915 storms and Hurricane Ike in 2008. During the 1900 and 1915 storms, the light-house harbored a number of peninsula residents, saving them from certain death. Ac-cording to an inspector’s report after the 1900 storm, over 6,000 lives were lost on Galveston Island.
The Bolivar Lighthouse was officially retired on May 29, 1933, after 61 years of service. The lamps and reflector lenses have been reassembled and are a key artifact in the On the Water exhibit displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Fresnel lens, named for French scientist and inventor Augustin Fresnel, could be seen for miles.
Life in the Bolivar Lighthouse was lonely and somewhat monotonous. Mrs. H.C. Claiborne, wife of the first lighthouse keeper said, “Life at the lighthouse is very lonely and friendless. There is very little visiting because travel is nonexistent from the point to Galveston. We pass most of our time by reading books.”
Entries in the Lighthouse keeper’s journal suggest a busy and repetitive schedule kept by the keeper and his family. On November 1, 1902, the keeper’s wife wrote, “Scrubbing and washing floors and steps to lighthouse.” “Working all day cleaning brass and plate glass,” was her en-try in July, 1903. A very cold winter in February, 1903 yielded this entry, “Lots of frozen fish in sight.” The keeper’s wife wrote in May, 1903, “Saved Jack Houleham’s life as he was almost dead from drowning.”
In 1968, the made-for-television movie My Sweet Charlie, starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman, Jr. was filmed at the lighthouse. Ms. Duke won an Emmy Award for her work in the ground-breaking movie. In the opening scene, Ms. Duke is seen walking up the road to the lighthouse.