This entry includes a virtual tour! Take the tour.
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This may seem like a strange place for a lighthouse but the lighthouse is here for the same reason New Orleans is here. It's all about shipping. Traveling up through the mouth of the Mississippi River on sail was quite difficult. The Mississippi was a very large, sediment laden river, with shifting shoals at the mouth hindering navigation. The estuary of Lake Pontchartrain provided the perfect solution. Ships were able to travel from the Gulf into the estuary and down a natural way called Bayou St John. The Bayou brought the ships within easy portage distance to the Mississippi without having to go through the mouth of the river. The Louisiana purchase in 1803 brought tensions between the French Creole who operated the Bayou St John canal and the Americans pouring into town. Soon the Americans decided they needed to build their own canal, the New Basin Canal. The canal company sent representatives to Ireland to recruit workers desperate from the potato famine. The Irish came to New Orleans by the thousands to dig the canal with shovels and wheel barrels for less than $1/day. It is estimated that 8,000-10,000 died during the creation of the canal thru mosquito infested swamps, yellow fever, typhoid fever and malaria. A Celtic cross as a remembrance of the Irishmen who died during the digging of the canal stands on West End Blvd. The original New Basin Canal was 6 miles long, 6 feet deep, 60 feet wide, took 6 years to build. It has since been mostly filled in to make room for I-10. At the mouth of the canal, is where they build the first New Canal Lighthouse.
Backstory and Context
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The lighthouse you see here today is actually the 4th lighthouse to stand on this site. The 1st was an octagonal cypress tower with a light on top built in 1839. By 1855, it began to sink and lean. It was decided a different type of structure might work better on the soft spongy ground. The 1855 lighthouse, was a single story square building lit by a Fresnel lens. The 2nd lighthouse was sturdy and might have lasted until today but, in 1880, the Southern Yacht relocated right across the New Basin Canal from the lighthouse. The yacht club building was beautiful but it was also two stories tall and blocked the light from the single story lighthouse. The Lighthouse Board decided to raise the 1855 lighthouse to make room for a taller structure. The 3rd lighthouse was a two story wedding cake design built on the ground but built up taller than the Southern Yacht Club so the light could be seen over the water. The 1890 lighthouse stood over 100 years until Hurricanes Katrina and Rita knocked it down in 2005. LPBF obtained the lease to rebuild the lighthouse and turn it into an education center and museum. A Perfect place to bring people to learn about the lake and coast. LPBF dismantled the 1890 lighthouse in 2007, stored the pieces in a warehouse and began fundraising. The 4th lighthouse you see today was completed in the spring of 2013. The new lighthouse is built 19 feet off the ground for hurricane protection. It is a replica of the 1890 lighthouse built using about 50% original material. The only difference is the placement of the bell tower. It was moved from the north side to the west side to be able to put an elevator style lift inside the tower. The light in the cupola has an LED lamp with a Fresnel lens housed inside a second protective lens. The light travels 9 miles into Lake Pontchartrain. It goes on at dusk and off at dawn every night with a specific flash: 3 flashes and a pause in 5 seconds. Continue with the tour to hear more about the Fresnel lens as well as our most famous light keeper, Margaret Norvell.