West Rigolets, Louisiana
If you drive along Highway 90 in Louisiana, stop and take a
look at Fort Pike, an old Civil War Fort. And when you leave Fort Pike
going east, you'll cross the bridge across the Pearl River. As you cross,
look over your left shoulder and off in the distance on the west side of
the river, you will see the outline of a small lighthouse. It's not one of
those tall towers, but a little square house with the tower in the middle
of the roof. It's the West Rigolets (Rigolay) Lighthouse.
Built as a guide to vessels entering the Rigolets, the
lighthouse was finished in 1855. It is a small building, with the light
originally just 30 feet above the lake. The Rigolets are channels
connecting Lake Ponchartrain to Mississippi sound. This little lighthouse
went through hurricanes and storms and guided ships until 1945 when it was
discontinued. During the Civil War, the keeper was murdered. Although no
one ever discovered "who dunnit", he was the only lighthouse keeper known
to be killed at his post during the hostilities. From the time it was
discontinued, the lighthouse was more or less left to rot.
The first time we tried to see it, we could only see the
lighthouse from the bridge. We had thought we could drive to it, but that
turned out to be impossible. We looked around for a marina or someone with
a boat. At that time the area seemed almost deserted and we were not able
to get out to the lighthouse.
A year or so
later we went back. We just waited around at the boat launch at Fort Pike,
and the first fisherman that came to put his boat in the water agreed to
take us to the lighthouse to take photos. (We often do this if we can't
find any other way. People have been very nice to us and taken us to
lighthouses). It was a gray day and we were not terribly thrilled with the
photos. So, in January of this year, we were very happy to get an
invitation to join Bruce Roberts and his wife, Cheryl Roberts, to go with
them to West Rigolets.. Bruce and Cheryl are the authors of the book,
"Lighthouse Families". Bruce is a photographer and with his partner, Ray
Jones has authored many lighthouse books. To make it even better, it
turned out that the man who arranged the trip was Lamar Bevil, a
lighthouse enthusiast we had been in correspondence with for several
years. It was so nice to meet him and his wife, Kim.
We were to meet the Roberts and the Bevils at the Holiday
Inn near the airport in New Orleans. It was a beautiful morning, blue
skies and some clouds in the sky. It took us near an hour to get to the
boat launch at Fort Pike and a while later than that before the man with
the boat arrived. Guess what? By the time we got in the boat, storm clouds
had moved in and the wind started to blow. We got out to the lighthouse,
tied the boat up, and we all got out on the rocks around the lighthouse.
Lamar and Ben, the man with the boat, brought a ladder, so we could climb
up to the deck of the lighthouse. Poor little building. The railings are
gone, the windows are gone, but as we walked around, it had a solid feel.
In one of the rooms, someone had burned a big circle on the floor. Luckily
it had not burned through. We could see behind the lighthouse, the remains
of two brick cisterns, and the oil house with part of it's roof gone.
We are no happier with this second set of
photos than we were with the first, but sometime we hope to go back on a
sunny day and take more cheerful images of this lighthouse. We also hope
that someone will care enough to help stabilize it or even restore it, so
that it is around for more years to come. As you can see at the top of the
this lighthouse is gone. We will never be able to go back and
reshoot its photo.
historical info that I have given you here, came from the book
"Lighthouses, Lightships and the Gulf of Mexico" by the late David Cipra,
who is considered THE expert on lighthouses of the Gulf Coast.