|West Rigolets, LA|
Description: The Rigolets is a bayou that connects the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain to Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound. Using this winding waterway, large ships could anchor off Chandeleur or Ship Island and transfer their cargo to smaller vessels capable of reaching the three New Orleans ports built on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain: Port Pontchartrain, Bayou St. John, and New Canal.
Early on, it was recognized that protecting this vital link from foreign invaders was crucial to the security of New Orleans. Accordingly, a wooden fort was built near the western extreme of the Rigolets. The fort, named Petite Coquilles, was manned during the War of 1812, but did not witness extensive action. The success of the British elsewhere during the war demonstrated that the U.S. coastal defenses were inadequate. This deficiency prompted President Monroe to direct the erection of numerous fortifications following the war to protect the nation’s strategic ports. One of these new forts was Fort Pike, constructed of red brick, which replaced the wooden fort on the Rigolets.
The lighthouse was active until July 6, 1861, when it was darkened due to the Civil War, which was being contested nearby. Union forces eventually gained control of the area, and the lighthouse was reactivated in November of 1862, with a ship’s lantern being used as the light. Apparently hostilities in the area had not been suppressed, as keeper Thomas Harrison was found shot on the lighthouse wharf, just two days after the light returned to service. Harrison was the only keeper killed during the War Between the States. The party responsible for the shooting was never determined.
A fifth-order Fresnel lens was returned to the lantern room in 1863, when the station was completely overhauled. John M. Read was appointed keeper and served for thirty-six years. Following his death, Read was succeeded by his wife Anna. During Read’s tenure, the lighthouse received substantial damage from two hurricanes. The lighthouse was further threatened by the encroachment of the muddy water of the Rigolets. In 1917, the lighthouse was raised six feet and placed on a new foundation of concrete pilings.
West Rigolets Lighthouse was abandoned in 1945, when an automated electric light was established nearby. The structure was subsequently sold to a private owner, Mike Vujnovich, for the sum of $2,500. When Vujnovich passed away in 1960, the lighthouse was left to his three nephews. Anton Zanki obtained sole control of the lighthouse after he bought out the other two nephews. Zanki’s son expressed interest in restoring the lighthouse, but no work had started as of April 2003. Besides the lighthouse itself, a brick oil house, built in 1910, and two large circular brick supports that once held the station’s wooden cisterns remained standing in 2003.
West Rigolets lighthouse was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. This picture of the lighthouse was taken by Matthew White just a few weeks before the hurricane came ashore. Of the 700 homes located on the island where West Rigolets Lighthouse stood, only twelve survived Katrina. Matthew White's house was one of those lost.
The lighthouse was located just over a half mile northwest of Fort Pike. These two historic neighbors were a reminder of the important role the Rigolets played in New Orleans’ commerce and defense, but now just one remains to tell its story.
Head Keepers: James Cain (1855 – 1861), Thomas Harrison (1862), John M. Read (1853 – 1898), Anna M. Read (1898 – at least 1912), George M. Read ( - 1915), Thomas Zettwoch (1915 – at least 1920), Charles Walter Heartt (at least 1923).
Formerly located at the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain, where it meets The Rigolets,
0.6 miles northwest of Fort Pike Historic Park and the Highway 90
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
The parking lot at Fort Pike is shared with a boat ramp. We decided we would try to ask a boater for a ride out to the West Rigolets Lighthouse. While waiting for an unsuspecting boat captain, we briefly toured the historic fort. From the top of the fort, we saw a boat approaching so hurried back to the ramp, only to see the boat continue on into Lake St. Catherine. Tired of waiting, we drove down the road a bit, and stopped at a nearby grouping of homes and crab fisheries. We inquired if anyone would be interested in taking us out to the lighthouse, and quickly found a willing boat owner. After launching the boat, we were soon out at that lighthouse, which seems to be a popular fishing spot. We were very impressed by the friendliness of our impromptu guide, and on leaving were given a refrigerator magnet for Pomes Seafood, just in case we wanted to have some of their fresh crab shipped to us. Their number is (504) 662-5026, if you are ever looking for some fresh crab.
See our List of Lighthouses in Louisiana
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.