Ship Shoal Lighthouse

Ship Shoal Lighthouse
Ship Shoal Lighthouse

(1859)

Lighthouses and aids-to-navigation in general, have logically been associated with the economy of the nation. The safety of our coasts and harbors has been attractive to shippers and has undeniably benefitted our international trade. The free flow of shipping, with foreign-bound consumer products or inbound raw materials allowed the young nation to advance economically at a fast pace. Environmentally the light warned shipping of dangers, averting groundings or wrecks which could cause pollution.

Charts from the early 1800's show Ship Shoal as an island some 20 miles south-south-west of Raccoon Point. On December 17, 1847 the Revenue Cutter McLane was recalled from the Mexican War duty to report to New Orleans "without delay....to dismantle her...." for transformation into a lightship. The original cost of the vessel was $12,774.67. The Ship Shoal Lightship was anchored in 1849 to guide vessels between the shoal and Raccoon Point.

Visible for about 12 miles, the two red lanterns were 30 feet and 45 feet above the waterline. Each lantern held eight wicks and reflectors. The vessel was anchored inside the west end of the shoal in about five fathoms (30 feet) of water.

In 1859 the lightship was replaced by the Ship Shoal Lighthouse. The 125 foot iron skeleton tower was placed on screwpiles in 15 feet of water, its large lens making one revolution every 30 seconds.

By 1866, several lighthouse keepers had become sick or paralized at this light and as the reputation spread, new keepers became hard to find. Sickness continued for several years until it was discovered that the leaded red paint was being washed into the rainwater tanks, which were also coated with leaded paint. The old paint was removed entirely and the tower coated with hot coal tar. Health at once improved.

Erosion of the foundation became a major concern by the early 1870's, when the tower began tipping slightly and the water depth on one side increased sharply. Granite blocks shipped shortly afterward to Fort Pickens, Fl. for transshipment to Ship Shoal were not delivered to the light until 1896, but luckily the tower had stabilized.

Now, extinguished, the brown skeleton tower is the Ship Shoal daytime landmark and the last remaining lighthouse off the Terrebonne Parish coast.

Story written by:

Wendell Usie'

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