Madisonville’s old lighthouse has a bright future

MADISONVILLE, LA (WGNO) -- Anyone who has spent time boating along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain has probably seen the old lighthouse in Madisonville.

It was built in 1832, destroyed during the Civil War, and rebuilt in 1868 using many of the same bricks.

The only way to get to the lighthouse is by boat.  The road that once connected it to the city of Madisonville is a victim of erosion.  In fact, the lighthouse once marked the curve in the Tchefuncte River where it met the lake.  But erosion has also removed so much land from the area that the mouth of the river is now a mile or two to the east.

"All the commerce from New Orleans over to Covington, Madisonville, came through here," says John Ammerman of the lighthouse's original importance more than 100 years ago.

Ammerman is also the President Emeritus of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum.  He's working with the city of Madisonville to restore and improve the lighthouse and the land surrounding it.

Plans call for the construction of a bulkhead, breakwater, pier and dock.  All of the permits are secured Ammerman says, but the money is not.  The price tag for the job is about $1.5 million.

So now the work is underway to appeal to maritime and environmental groups to help raise the money.

Until then, the museum is enlisting the help of an expert to restore and repair the lighthouse itself.  Over the years, vandals ripped away the security door, hunters shot the windows, and Hurricane Isaac took out several of the steps of the lighthouse's cast iron spiral stairs.

"This is in very good condition," says Gary Knappenberger who travels the country with his son handling renovation projects on lighthouses.  "It has a few little cosmetic problems, which most do.  But structurally, it's very sound."

No detail gets past Knappenberger's eye, right down to the brass framing around the just-replaced windows.

 

The goal is to one day turn the lighthouse into an attraction for the museum.

"So we could take tours from our museum dock on the river about two miles up, down to this dock here," Ammerman says. "I mean, look at this.  It was rebuilt after the Civil War.  C'mon, I love it."

While the work of raising the money for the project could be challenging, the enthusiasm is there for a lighthouse that could become a significant tourism and teaching attraction in Madisonville.

"I think it's here for another 50, 100 years," says Knappenberger.  And he should know.