Our stay on the island was almost coming to an end and I still haven’t visited the island’s museum. So right after my shift, I picked up Noriega from his barracks and we drove to the lighthouse. Located near the tip of the southern part of the island we were fortunate enough to find it open. Trying out my new lenses for my phone, amidst the hot weather of February we parked on the yellow grasses of the lighthouse. The first thing that greeted us was the statue of a soldier.
We took a photo with it and then walked around the museum grounds seeing a Gazebo made by volunteers and a couple of old, rotting boats which seemed either ended on the shores of Guantanamo Bay or was once used for fishing. We walked further and saw a painting of the US and Cuba flag together and as we looked at it and take pictures here is the beginning of the history of the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay
“Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is the oldest U.S. military base on foreign soil. An open-ended lease between President Theodore Roosevelt and Cuba’s first president Tomas Estrada Palma granted the territory to the U.S. for use as a Naval Base and Coaling Station. At noon on 10 December 1903, the leadership of the base turned over to the U.S.
Government and construction began on North and South Torro Cays, located in the center of the bay. After a failed attempt to build a dry dock on South Torro Cay, and the realization that the Cay’s were vulnerable to an attack from the sea, base operation were relocated to their current position on the windward side of the bay.”
A brief history of the Naval base written within the lighthouse’s collections. Since it was the island’s museum almost all of the events relating to the Naval base had their own place on the exhibits. There were pictures and articles related to the Leeward Chapel, Hospital Cay, Recreation Area, and USS Monongahela. But there was also a history of the lighthouse itself.
Windward Point Lighthouse
To start off the history let’s give you a background, the building of the lighthouse started after the end of the Spanish American War which occurred during the later 1890s and here is where the history began.
“With the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, while Cuba became a U.S. protectorate. A U.S. military government-controlled Cuba until it was granted independence on May 20, 1902, but the United States established a perpetual lease for Guantanamo Bay. At the time of occupation of Cuba by the military government on January 1, 1899, there were seventeen working lighthouses, and over the next few months, eight additional lights were either built or returned to service.
One of the new lights erected in 1899 was a metal tower at Windward Point (Punta de Barlovento) that displayed a fixed red light from a fourth-order lens. In 1901, Captain Lucien Young, Captain of the Port of Havana, visited the lighthouse at Guantanamo Bay as part of a tour of Cuba’s lighthouse, and gave the following report of its condition:
Guantanamo light-house is situated on Punta de Barlovento, the western point of the entrance, and exhibits from a tower 23.1 meters above the sea, of the fourth order, a fixed red light, visible 14 miles and is in good condition.
The tower is of iron, cylindrical in shape, is new and in perfect condition, except that the light gray paint with which it was originally colored should be renewed, as some rust specks are shown in spots.
The dwelling is a small single-story rectangular wooden structure. It is entirely too small for the families of the keepers who occupy it and should be enlarged. I would suggest that this enlargement be made by the addition at each end of a covered surface of from four to six meters, the foundations of which are already there.
The keepers are efficient, competent, tidy and attentive, and the records are well kept.
The entire harbor and bay, inner and outer, has recently been thoroughly surveyed and charted by the United States Surveying Vessel, and, with the sea marks already in place, I find that, with the addition of two red nuns, two black can and two buoys with channels on each side, will complete the aids to navigation of this bay.”
On December 29, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt directed the Department of Commerce and Labor to take charge of the lighthouses and buoyage within the naval reservation at Guantanamo Bay. The Lighthouse Board took charge of the navigational aids at Guantanamo Bay the following year and requested $30,000 from Congress to establish and maintain additional lights, build a lighthouse depot and dock, and to cover the necessary supplies and salaries.
Guantanamo Bay was first placed under control of the Third District, which included New York City, but in 1905, it was transferred to the Seventh District, which included parts of Florida. An act approved on March 3, 1905 appropriated $25,000 for Guantanamo Bay, and with these funds work began on establishing a lighthouse depot and improving navigational aids in the harbor. During the next year, Hicacal Beach Range Lights were established across the bay, and in 1907, Fisherman Point Range Lights were established about two miles from Windward Point.
Three keepers were assigned to the station to care for the main light and the two sets of range lights. Two dwellings, one for the head keeper and one for the first assistant, were located near Windward Point Lighthouse, and a third dwelling was located near the lighthouse wharf. To provide water for the keepers, two wooden tanks, one with the capacity of 6,000 gallons and a second with a capacity of 3,000 gallons, were used to capture rainwater from the dwellings’ roofs.
On July 1, 1918, $14,000 was appropriated for building a double-dwelling at Windward Point and for erecting new towers for electric lights to replace the old oil range lights. The dwelling at Windward Point was completed in February 1920, and the new range lights were placed in commission in December of that year.
Arthur C.E. Hamblett was in charge of the lights at Guantanamo Bay during the 1910s, after having previously served at Fowey Rocks, Pensacola, Sand Key, Carysfort Reef, American Shoals, and Rebecca Shoal.
Windward Point Lighthouse was deactivated in 1955 when the light was established atop a nearby skeletal tower. Coast Guard personnel lived in the residence at the lighthouse until 1995, when the dwelling was converted into a museum that houses photographs and memorabilia from the Spanish American War to the present.
The lighthouse was in a rather poor condition in 2015 when McEntire Design began work on the tower. The lighthouse was surrounded by scaffolding, which allowed workers to sandblast the structure and determine what needs to be done to restore it. The tower should open by the end of Summer 2017.”
So that was the long history of the Windward Point Lighthouse, we still have many things to cover in this museum. But since it will be mostly unrelated to the lighthouse but to the island itself, I’ll put it in a different article.
Here is the link for more information: