HOUSTON -- A University of Houston-Clear Lake student teamed up with the Galveston County Museum to shine the light on one of the city’s premier artifacts – the original, 19th century Fresnel lens from the island’s South Jetty Lighthouse.
UH-Clear Lake School of Education then-student Kathleen Mallory worked closely with Galveston County Museum Director Helen Mooty to develop the first of several new educational outreach packages, or traveling treasure chests, for use in area schools. The South Jetty Lighthouse Treasure Chest is a portable “traveling trunk” that includes a detailed teacher’s guide along with several necessary tools to teach fourth-grade lessons in language arts, social studies, science and mathematics. Its treasure trove includes a detailed history of the lighthouse structure and the rare lens, along with photos and images, suggested reading materials and post-lesson activities. It even includes a small flashlight, glass jar and mirror to help demonstrate lessons on refraction and reflection.
The Galveston County Museum is still recovering from damage sustained during Hurricane Ike. Although no artifacts were lost during the storm, the facility suffered extensive damage to its electrical and HVAC systems as well as the loss of its office equipment and furniture. In addition to displacing museum employees, its artifacts had to be boxed up and stored in Shearn Moody Plaza (the Railroad Building) on the Strand. The huge lens, constructed in the late 1800s in France and salvaged from the original lighthouse in 1972, remains impounded in the old facility in a specially-constructed 12-foot box which was quickly built around it to protect it from damage in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Preparations are currently underway to relocate the lens to the museum’s new location in the Galveston County Courthouse.
“There are only five people in the United States that are authorized to move such a rare artifact. We have completed taking bids, and the County is working with a conservator,” says Mooty. The relocation is expected in the coming weeks.
Eventually the museum will reopen in the old Jury Assembly Room of the courthouse, but in the meantime, Mooty wanted to get the word out to the island and mainland communities that the museum is still in business, despite its lack of exhibition space.
Mooty, a 2005 graduate of UH-Clear Lake, in discussions with Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and chair of Teacher Education Denise McDonald, developed the mutually beneficial idea of tapping into the talents of the university’s teacher candidates, and Mallory, lacking only a final project to complete a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, jumped at the chance to take it on.
The museum has lesson plans on many topics, but they are dated and in need of a realignment with current Texas standards. The decision was made for Mallory to start from scratch. A survey of area teachers’ interests generated many requests for information about the infamous turn-of-the-century hurricane.
“But there’s so much more to Galveston than the 1900 storm,” Mallory says.
She and Mooty ultimately decided to focus a 4th grade lesson plan on the Fresnel lens of the South Jetty Lighthouse because few people seemed aware of it even though it is considered one of the premier artifacts of Galveston history.
“The lighthouse was never a tourist attraction because it was so far off the mainland,” explains Mallory.
But it is rich with history, and it was not your typical Bolivar Peninsular-type lighthouse. It was instead a huge steel structure that sat 43 feet above sea level. Its construction began in 1904, but the lighthouse did not become operational until 1919. The Fresnel lens, with individual lenses measuring more than three and a half feet tall, was initially on display at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco for two years before being shipped to Galveston for its lighthouse duty.
In 1972 the lighthouse was deactivated and replaced by modern warning lights. The lens was removed and given to the Galveston County Museum, and the cupola, or lantern room, which housed the lens, was given to Galveston County College where it remains today. The last of the South Jetty’s lighthouse’s structure was knocked down by a storm in 2000.
Mallory developed the 17-page lesson plan with the assistance of museum volunteer and retired teacher Sandy Siddall.
Teachers interested in learning more about the South Jetty Lighthouse Treasure Chest and lesson plans should contact the museum director at Helen.Mooty@co.galveston.tx.us or call 409-766-2340.
For more information about UH-Clear Lake’s Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, visit http://soe.uhcl.edu or call 281-283-3615.