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Gulf Coast Lighthouses

although mostly outdated and obsolete, lighthouses are loved by millions, and the gulf coast is home to a number of these striking iconic landmarks.

By Derek Bagley - photography by C. Ross


People's love affair with lighthouses is a well-documented one.


Walk into any souvenir shop anywhere along a coastline and you’re bound to find lighthouse-shaped trinkets, from mailboxes to Christmas ornaments. Many houses along the Coast are adorned with paintings and replicas of lighthouses, symbols of hope and safety that are always welcome in the home.

That hope and safety are most likely the origin of our affinity for lighthouses, these structures that provided a beacon for weary sailors trying to find their way home, a light in the darkness of the night or a storm, guiding people to shelter.

Today, lighthouses have been mostly relegated to historic structures and symbols, not really used for their practical purposes anymore, since most nautical navigation is overseen by modern devices. That fact, coupled with the expense of maintenance and everyday upkeep has led to the endangerment of lighthouses. The lighthouses along the Gulf Coast are especially threatened, as hurricanes over the years have damaged many beyond repair.
But people seem to understand their importance. Often, when movements have been made to tear these structures down, they have been met by vehement opposition, whether the lighthouses are still purposeful as navigation aids, or simply as landmarks of historical significance.


The Pensacola Lighthouse

Pensacola Lighthouse by Courtland RichardsThe Pensacola Lighthouse is a shining example of the former, a station that continues to be a useful navigational tool. The Coast Guard owns the tower that stands on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, where it has stood and been in full operation since 1859 with a light that you can see for 27 miles, guiding military and civilian vessels to safe passage. Its importance for the maritime community today is matched by its historical significance, as it played an integral part in shaping this region.

Photography by Courtland Richards


The Biloxi Lighthouse

Biloxi Lighthouse by Courtland RichardsBuilt in 1848, the Biloxi Lighthouse was a vital instrument to the coastal community, watching over thousands of sailors and their ships, all who helped shape what the city and the surrounding region is today. It was constructed to aid those sailing into the Mississippi Sound, which was, at the time, the only entrance to America’s busiest seaport of New Orleans. Although damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, reconstruction efforts began on June 29, and should be completed with the lighthouse open again to the public by the end of the year.

Photography by Courtland Richards


The Middle Bay Lighthouse

Middle Bay Lighthouse by Courtland RichardsActivated in 1885, Middle Bay Lighthouse located in the middle of Mobile Bay served as an integral part of Alabama’s maritime history for 124 years. It was deactivated in 1967, and in 1971, the Coast Guard began planning its demolition, but they were met by swift and immediate opposition from the community, citing the station’s importance as a destination for boaters and fishermen. In 1985, the Middle Bay Lighthouse was placed in the National Registry of Historic Places, just as it was fully restored in time for its 100th anniversary. But in recent years, three hurricanes have damaged the structure, and the lighthouse has continued to deteriorate year after year, until now, not even volunteers are allowed to work on it anymore. The costs to maintain Middle Bay have become astronomical as well, so the Alabama Lighthouse Association has begun its efforts to have Middle Bay Lighthouse moved by crane and barge to Battleship Park in Mobile, where it can be easily visited by the public.

Photography by Courtland Richards


The Tchefuncte River Lighthouse

Tchefuncte River Lighthouse by C. RossIn Madisonville, Louisiana, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, stands the Tchefuncte River Lighthouse, but it’s only easily viewed by boat or by standing at the southern end of Highway 1077. The lighthouse and surrounding grounds are closed, due to recent vandalism, and the Madisonville Police and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department enforces a strict “no access policy.” Completed in 1837, the Tchefuncte River Lighthouse was damaged in the Civil War, but reconstructed and served the Louisiana maritime community for more than a century. Featured in the 2008 movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, today it’s managed by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum that works with various groups in restoring and maintaining the station.

Photography by C. Ross


Full story published in the Fall 2009 issue


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about the cover of the fall 2009 issue

Picked by Catherine Neill Juchheim

When I first read Derek's story on the Gulf Coast lighthouses, I was excited to start gathering photography for the article. I have to admit that I was included in the 85% of people in South Alabama that had never laid eyes on Middle Bay Lighthouse. In fact, I'd never even heard of it!


I started researching it, learning that unlike the "normal" type of lighthouse that I always imagine, Middle Bay is an unusual type of "screw-pile" cottage lighthouse, of which there are only 8 left in existence along the coastline of the U.S. Only 2 of those still actually stand where they were originally constructed, including Middle Bay.


When I got the beautiful selection of images in from photographer Courtland Richards, I was saddened to see the state of deterioration that Middle Bay Lighthouse is currently in. I fully understood the Alabama Lighthouse Association's effort to relocate Middle Bay to a better spot.


I started wondering what Middle Bay Lighthouse would look like if it were still a functioning lighthouse as it was at the turn of the century, and decided that an artistic rendering of this idea would be a great image for the cover of our Fall issue. So I took an amazing sunset image shot by Courtland and begin work on it, based on a late-19th century image taken by the U.S. Coast Guard and images of other existing screw-pile lighthouses. The end result is our cover, and I hope purists will forgive me for taking such artistic license!


Southern Breeze Fall Cover