Stopped to see lighthouse the Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse

New Orleans Travel Blog

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In 1834, Congress allocated $5,000 for the construction of a light with a height of eighteen feet, but the railroad company preferred the higher focal plane of their late and suggested the government just take it over. For whatever reason, a new light was not constructed with the appropriated funds. Three years later, a larger sum was earmarked for a lighthouse, and this time an octagonal wooden tower, similar to those constructed nearby at Bayou St. John and New Canal, was built. From its base with a diameter of eighteen feet, the tower rose to a height of twenty-eight feet where a revolving chandelier created a flashing light, distinguishing it from the fixed lights at the two nearby ports. Benjamin J. Shane became the lighthouse’s first keeper on February 15, 1839. According to oral history passed down through his family, Keeper Shane died the following year after tripping over a bucket and falling down the lighthouse stairs.

By the early 1850s, the three octagonal lighthouses marking the ports along the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain were in need of replacement. Square buildings perched just offshore on pilings and topped by a circular lantern room were built at the other two ports, but for some reason, Port Pontchartrain received a brick tower constructed 2,100 feet from shore on a concrete pad supported by pilings driven into the lake bottom. The lighthouse was completed in 1855, and used the lighting apparatus from the former tower, until a fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1857.

Port Pontchartrain Light Station
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse was reportedly the only one on the Gulf Coast to retain its keeper throughout the Civil War. Before the war was over, the old abandoned octagonal tower described as “a weather-boarded, eight-sided truncated pyramid of very ugly shape” was dismantled and used to build a walkway over the lake to the railroad pier.

In 1880, the diameter of the top of the tower was increased to support a new lantern room. Additional brickwork flared out the top of the tower, raising its height by seven feet and giving it a unique dumbbell appearance. Just two years after the tower was extended, another change came to the station. Beginning in 1882, a string of three women keeper’s served at the lighthouse, until it was discontinued in 1929. The middle keeper of this trio was Margaret R. Norvell. Margaret’s husband drowned in 1891, while serving as the keeper of the Head of Passes Lighthouse. The sailors at sea became the men in Margaret’s life. She said, “there isn’t anything unusual in a woman keeping a light in her window to guide men folks home. I just happen to keep a bigger light than most women because I have got to see that so many men get safely home.” Margaret finished her career at the New Canal Lighthouse.

Milneburg attracted several Jazz greats in the early 1900s, and continued to be a popular resort until the 1930s. At that time, the Levee Board implemented lakefront reclamation plans, and much of Milneburg was destroyed as the shoreline was reinforced. The lighthouse, however, survived, and in 1939, when the area was developed into an amusement park, it served as office space for the park. The Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park was considered the south’s largest thrill park during the 1970s, but other parks soon surpassed it, forcing it to close in 1984.

The land was dormant until 1991 when the University of New Orleans (UNO) acquired the property from the Orleans Levee District. The area is now part of the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park and was slated to be incorporated into the grounds of a lakefront hotel. The lighthouse has lost some of its height to settling, but appears to be in good condition

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