Biloxi Travel Blog

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after the worlds largest chair, i zoomed on over to Biloxi to see Jefferson Davis' "White House" during the Civil War and the Biloxi lighthouse

In 1847, Stephen Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury Department, announced, "I intend to put a Cast Iron Light House at Biloxi and this will prove the utility which they may be of." The Biloxi Lighthouse thus became the first cast-iron tower in the South. The utility of the tower was certainly proven when in 1998, Hurricane Georges toppled the masonry tower at Round Island, and the Biloxi Lighthouse became the last standing of the more than ten lighthouses originally built to mark the Mississippi coastline.

Biloxi Lighthouse
The Biloxi Lighthouse was one of three Mississippi Sound Lighthouses authorized in 1847 by legislation sponsored by Mississippi Representative Jefferson Davis.
Metal plates, cast by Murray and Hazlehurst Vulcan Works in Baltimore, were bolted together to form a metal wrapper around a brick liner. The tower was completed in the spring of 1848 and Marcellus J. Howard was assigned as the first keeper. Part of his job was to service the lamps and nine small reflectors that comprised the lighting apparatus. Later, the light would be upgraded to fourteen, 21.5-inch reflectors.

Although the first keeper was a man, the Biloxi Lighthouse would later earn the distinction of having been kept by female keepers for more years than any other lighthouse in the United States. Mary Reynolds was the first female keeper, serving from 1854 to 1866. When the Civil War erupted in 1861, a local group of "Home Guards" ordered the light extinguished and seized the keys to the tower. After the death of her relatives, Keeper Reynolds was guardian for several orphaned children, who lived with her at the lighthouse.

Concerned that her salary would be interrupted during the war, Mary wrote to the Governor of Mississippi, reporting on her faithfulness in tending the light and on the theft of oil from the lighthouse. Her stipend likely continued during the conflict, as she is listed as the official keeper until 1866.

Following the war, Perry Younghans was appointed keeper of the Biloxi Lighthouse, which was now equipped with a fifth-order Fresnel lens. Younghans died during his first year of service, and his wife Maria assumed responsibility for the light. She served at the light for over fifty years. Maria was described as a "plucky woman," who kept the light burning even in adverse conditions. During one storm, a large pelican broke a glass pane in the lantern room. Maria quickly effectuated a temporary repair, allowing the light to send out its welcoming beam to any sailor who might be caught in the storm.

During the latter portion of Maria's tenure, her daughter Miranda served as assistant keeper. When Maria retired in 1919, Miranda was promoted to keeper. Miranda remained at the light for ten more years, during which time the light was electrified

Although the light is today a good distance from the water's edge, this hasn't always been the case. In the 1850s, the tower stood on the edge of a sand bank, just twenty-nine feet from the shoreline. A concrete seawall was constructed to protect the bank from erosion. During a storm in 1860, part of the wall collapsed, allowing the surging sea to undermine the foundation on one side of the tower. The resulting void caused the tower to lean two feet from vertical. A plain brick tower might have collapsed under such conditions, but Pleasonton's iron sheath, kept the tower intact. After the Civil War, earth was removed from beneath the lighthouse on the side opposite the lean, and the tower gradually returned to its former vertical position.

So is that where those modern engineers got the idea for stabilizing the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Like several other iron towers, the Biloxi Lighthouse received a coat of black coal tar shortly after the Civil War to protect it from rust. This color change led to the persistent myth that the tower was painted black to mourn the death of Abraham Lincoln. The tower was repainted white in 1869 to make it stand out from the dark backdrop of trees near the lighthouse.

The look of the Biloxi Light Station has changed over time. In 1906, the station's cisterns were removed after a link to the municipal waterworks was installed, and Hurricane Camille destroyed the keeper's dwelling in 1969. Now, the stout iron tower, owned by the city of Biloxi, stands alone in the median of Highway 90.

The Biloxi Lighthouse survived Hurricane Katrina, which caused so much devastation in Biloxi and the surrounding Gulf Coast in 2005. Since the hurricane, an American flag has been draped from atop the lighthouse, making it a symbol of the community's resolve to withstand and overcome all calamities.

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photo by: bensonryan