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|First Lighthouse on the Mississippi
|After the U.S. purchased Louisiana in 1803, planning began for a lighthouse to be
constructed on Frank's Island, at the only navigable point of entrance to the Mississippi
River from the Gulf of Mexico at that time. But there were delays and construction
didn't begin until 1818. Benjamin H. Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol, had drawn up
the plans -- which proved too large and ornate for a foundation resting on swampland.
Just as the tower neared completion, the foundation settled, toppling the ornate
columns, so that construction had to begin all over again.
The Aurora Borealis, the gulf's first lightship, was put in place near Frank's Island until
the second attempt at construction of a lighthouse - this one less grandiose - was
completed in 1823. It was the tallest and most powerful light on the Gulf Coast and,
unlike the first lighthouse on the island, this one stood proudly through its time
of service and many, many years beyond.
The lighthouse was discontinued in the mid-1850's and it had stood abandoned
for a hundred years by the time the last remnant of the island disappeared
under the Gulf's waters Then, slowly but surely, the lighthouse itself started
sinking. In 2002, a helicoptor pilot flying over Northeast Pass reported that
the historic lighthouse was now nothing more than a pile of rubble, visible
only when the tides were very low. It had taken 179 years, but the Gulf had
finally claimed the first lighthouse on the Mississippi River. -- Nancy
|Benjamin Latrobe's elaborate plans for the
first lighthouse on the Mississippi River
|These two photos of the Frank's Island Lighthouse were taken at
the time of the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1936.
|This marble marker on the lighthouse was moved to Fort Jackson in Buras, LA.
A plaque sits above it which reads in part:
"The First Lighthouse ~ Cornerstone of the first permanent lighthouse
on the Mississippi River ~ The light was erected one mile northeast of Northeast
Pass and three and a half miles north of La Balize, then the port at the only
navigable entrance to the Mississippi River ~ The order to build a lighthouse
was issued by Pres. Thomas Jefferson in 1804, one year after the United States
purchased the vast Louisiana Territory from France ~ The light was finished in
1823. This eight-hundred-pound piece of marble commemorates completion."