In 1869, the Spanish government set about building 15 lighthouses in Puerto Rico to protect the Spanish ships sailing in the waters around the island. Today, 13 of them still stand, albeit in a range of conditions from fully restored and functional to deteriorating and abandoned. The other two were sadly lost, including Punta Borinquen lighthouse.
The Punta Borinquen light was activated on September 15, 1889. The elaborate structure included a one-story base with 13 rooms—living quarters for two lighthouse keepers and their families—supporting an octagonal brick tower.
Near the turn of the century, the United States took possession of Puerto Rico and its properties, including the lighthouses, after the Spanish-American War. The site of the Punta Borinquen lighthouse became especially important when the Panama Canal was built in 1914, to guide ships coming from Europe. A report concluded that the beacon was built in the wrong location because the light was hard to see, and plans were made to build a new light from a more visible spot.
Before the new lighthouse was erected, however, Mother Nature took it upon herself to destroy the original structure. The lighthouse keeper at the time, Francisco Cavallieri, later said he had a premonition on the day of the disaster: The air grew “tight,” birds went silent, and the family dogs barked wildly before running outside. Cavallieri’s wife fled with the children, and soon thereafter, an earthquake struck the area. The keeper fled shortly before a tsunami engulfed the lighthouse.
In 1920 a new lighthouse, with the same name, was built on a tall cliff about one mile north of where the original stood, and it still operates today. What was left of the old storm-battered Punta Borinquen light felt apart after years of neglect. Today, it’s nothing but a couple segments of brick wall and a pile of ruins backdropped by beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean.