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 West Rigolets, LA    
Lighthouse destroyed.
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.

West Rigolets Light Station flooded by a storm
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
To guide friendly vessels to the Rigolets, a lighthouse was authorized for its eastern entrance in 1831. However, it took a couple of years before it was actually built. A companion lighthouse for the western entrance to the Rigolets was proposed as early as 1832, but East Rigolets Lighthouse was deemed sufficient for marking the passage. In 1855, the recently created Lighthouse Board built three new matching lighthouses for the three New Orleans ports on Lake Pontchartrain. That same year, a lighthouse based on the same design was built to mark the entrance to the Rigolets from Lake Pontchartrain using a $5,000 appropriation made by Congress on August 3, 1854. Called West Rigolets Lighthouse, the structure consisted of a square dwelling with a hipped roof, surmounted by a circular lantern room. James Cain was hired to serve as the light's first keeper.

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).

References

  1. Lighthouses, Lightships, and the Gulf of Mexico, David Cipra, 1997.
  2. "Louisiana’s West Rigolets Lighthouse," Jeremy D'Entremont, Lighthouse Digest, May 2002.

Location: 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 bridge.
Latitude: 30.17465
Longitude: -89.74307

For a larger map of West Rigolets Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The West Rigolets Lighthouse was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A distant view of the lighthouse site is possible by looking northwest while crossing the Highway 90 bridge over the Rigolets.

Find the closest hotels to West Rigolets Lighthouse

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.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.