MADISONVILLE, La. (WGNO) — Lots of museums have signs that say “DON’T TOUCH!” but there’s one on the Northshore where touching is not only allowed but also encouraged.

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum is a nautical mecca where you’ll find a giant anchor, a massive collection of outboard motors, and detailed dioramas portraying life during simpler times.

Other highlights include displays on the life of lighthouse keepers, along with a collection of miniature lighthouses, each a replica of one that served as a navigational beacon along the Gulf Coast.

“A lot of these don’t exist anymore,” says Executive Director Jim MacPherson, adding, “The lighthouse exhibit was built by Nelson Plaisance. He got actual U.S. Lighthouse Administration drawings and built them from those, and then he added some historical accuracy.”
One of the lighthouse scenes shows a keeper setting his lighthouse on fire as the Union troops were approaching. It’s a true story and the keeper did it so that the Union couldn’t use the lighthouse to their advantage, according to MacPherson.

Visitors can also crawl inside a life-size replica of a Civil War submarine (Watch WGNO’s Stephanie Oswald do just that in the video above!), learn how to tie a sailor’s knot, and play in a sandbox that’s actually a topographical map explaining the environmental importance of watersheds.

“The submarine is a replica of the Pioneer One, which was the predecessor to the Hunley. The Hunley was the first submarine to sink a warship,” explains MacPherson. The submarine was meant to hold four people.

As for the sandbox, MacPherson says people spend an average of 30 minutes “making it rain” and watching the colors change on the sand as the “water” moves accordingly.

The museum sits near the edge of the Tchefuncte River, on what was once the site of a shipyard. Historic photos and models inside the museum give visitors a glimpse of that time. There are boats on display inside and out, and if you’re lucky, there might even be some modern-day shipbuilding or restoration happening on the lower level, below the museum’s main exhibit floor.

There are even boat-building workshops and classes!

It’s best to allow at least two hours to experience this museum, longer if you’d like to watch all the films that are available in a theater that’s disguised as a steamboat. For admission details and more, click here.

Also on the grounds, the original Tchefuncte Lighthouse keeper’s cottage was moved to the museum site when it opened in 2001. Nowadays it’s used for weddings and other special events.

The museum’s biggest fundraiser is the Wooden Boat Festival, which will be held October 14-15 in 2023.

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