The Lighthouse People


MS 1.  Round Island Lighthouse, Mississippi
All these photos can be ordered, use the state # (ME12) for example
and the A, B or C, if there is more than one

We went out to Round Island Lighthouse in Sept. 1998, to photograph it before the restoration started. 
As you can see it was too close to the water, and something needed to be done. 
Two weeks later we were out again, in October, to photograph it AFTER Hurricane Georges. 


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Round Island Mississippi  MS1-A

Round Island Mississippi  MS1-B

Round Island Mississippi  MS1-C

Round Island Mississippi  MS1-D

Our Round Island Story:

 On the 19th of September, 1998, Bob and I were in Pascagoula, Mississippi at the invitation of one of the members of the Committee to Save Round Island Lighthouse, Margaret Meiselbach. The committee had formed not too long before and were just getting their information together as to what they hoped to accomplish and how they hoped to accomplish it. They had already had a donation of rip rap dumped out in the water to form a breakwater to protect the lighthouse, so the work had started, all to no avail.

Margaret had arranged for a boat to take us out to Round Island so that we could shoot the “before” photos. That was meant to be: before the restoration. We had been there five years before and photographed Round Island Lighthouse and now, we were shocked to see that the water was lapping at the base of the lighthouse. It truly needed restoration and preservation. We had a great boat trip out on a gorgeous day. Tropical Storm Hermine was moving in and I kept thinking about an old story I’d heard about some people going out to Round Island to photograph it and caught in a sudden squall off the Gulf, they drowned.

Our weather stayed beautiful although we could see the storm off on the horizon. We waded ashore and photographed the lighthouse from all angles. We were saddened to see ugly graffiti on the old, dignified structure on the beach. Although we photographed that side, it is not for publication, but to remind us how ignorant people can be. We got several great shots of the lighthouse and were looking forward to coming back after the work was done.

It’s an ill wind that blows no good and the latest ill wind was Hurricane Georges. After spreading death and destruction in the Caribbean, and one week after we photographed Round Island Lighthouse, Georges came on into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the beaches of North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Although it did not cause the deaths of a week earlier, there was much destruction. Many homes, condos, beachfront properties were badly damaged and destroyed. Georges also robbed us of a part of our history, our heritage. Georges destroyed the Round Island Lighthouse. Exactly two weeks after the Hurricane, we were back in Pascagoula, Mississippi ready to go out and photograph the destruction, three weeks to the day after we had gone to photograph it “before the restoration”.

This time we went out to the Island with Pascagoula Police Sergeant Paul Leonard transporting us in the official Police Boat. It was another beautiful day, cloudless sky with no storm offshore this time. As we got close to the island, Paul warned us that the island and the lighthouse looked like a bomb had been dropped on it. Other times we had gone there, our first view of the lighthouse was a silhouette at the end of the island, with many trees behind it. This time only a strangely shaped outline showed, with no trees left at that end of the island. As Paul brought the boat out in front of the lighthouse, we were saddened to see the destruction. It looked like the foundation had been washed out from beneath the tower, the tower tilted, and the top two thirds or three quarters broke off several feet above the doorway. One wall also had broken away. How pitiful it looked. Barely more than a pile of rubble in the water.

After Paul anchored the boat, we again waded ashore and looked over the destruction the hurricane had left. We wondered what had become of the lantern room and finally saw a piece sticking up out of the water that looked like it could be an edge of the roof. Not too far up the beach we saw the brick foundation of the old cistern that had probably been buried in sand for many years. The last times we had been there, four of the piling supports for the last keepers house had still been in existence. Now, they were totally gone, along with the trees and brush. The trees had entirely disappeared, their broken branches and trunks probably washed up on some other shore. Bricks from the lighthouse were scattered well down the beach and I just couldn’t imagine the strength of water that could move bricks many feet, much less break up a lighthouse.

Quoting reporter Todd Twilley in the Mississippi Press, October 1, 1998:

“On Sept. 27th, 1906, a hurricane demolished the buildings surrounding the lighthouse on Round Island. On the same day 92 years later, Hurricane Georges demolished the lighthouse.”

Round Island is a small island about four miles off the coast of Pascagoula. It was named Isle Ronde (Round Island) by early French explorers. However the island, then and now, is tear shaped.

This lighthouse, built in 1859 and just destroyed, was the second one built on the island. The first lighthouse was built in 1883 to guide ships through treacherous shoals and into Mississippi Sound and Pascagoula. It was built much too close to the water’s edge, and although it weathered many storms, in the 1850’s it was judged too vulnerable to continue. The new lighthouse was built on higher ground and did it’s job until the Civil War. At that time, lighthouses all over the Gulf Coast were put out of commission by the warring forces. After the war, Round Island again presided over Mississippi Sound. It served well until 1946 when it was discontinued by the Coast Guard. In later years the City of Pascagoula became the owners of Round Island and had the lighthouse placed on the National Historic Register.

There are several interesting stories in Round Island’s history. It seems it was an outpost for blockade runners, smuggling cotton during the Civil War and also a quarantine station for Yellow Fever in some later years.

In 1849, mercenary forces and equipment were being gathered on Round Island for a revolution to free Cuba. History says there were hundreds of armed men camped on that little island. The public was in favor of their plan, although the Federal Government was not. The Island was blockaded by U.S. Naval ships. The keeper, on his way to the lighthouse, was arrested by the Navy, along with his two sons. His provisions, boat and gun were seized until he was able to prove who he was. Luckily he had the papers naming him the lighthouse keeper in his possession and he was set free. The mercenaries were forced to leave the island, but before they left they did a lot of damage to the house, outbuildings and tower.

Round Island has also gone through other terrible hurricanes. In 1860, the keeper and his family were stranded in the lighthouse for several days without food and water. Every building on the island disappeared except for the lighthouse where they stayed. In 1906 another fierce hurricane pounded Round Island and the keeper survived by staying inside the tower. Five other people at lighthouses along the Gulf Coast were not so lucky and did not survive this killer storm. This brick lighthouse has outlasted many others on the Gulf Coast.