Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The oddest lighthouse yet

Adapting lighthouses to needlepoint has been as much of a hobby as it has been a business for me in the last 15 years. With today's entry, I've reached my personal goal of developing a representative for each of the 31 states in the U.S. which have lighthouses. If there were a contest, Louisiana's representative, Port Pontchartrain, would easily win as the most oddly-shaped lighthouse I've ever adapted. But as I researched the lighthouses of this state, I was more impressed by the fact that this one was among a handful to survive Hurricane Katrina in 2005 than I was by its shape.

In the early 1800s, Alexander Milne, a young gardener at a Scottish castle, was ordered to cut his hair and don a powdered wig, the fashion of the day. Instead he emigrated to the U.S., settling in New Orleans where he became a successful businessman and land-owner. On one parcel of land along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, he developed Milneburg, a resort town which became so popular in summer months that a railroad was built to connect it to the French Quarter.

The crude light built by the railroad as a navigational aid was replaced by an octagonal wooden tower in 1837. It, too, was abandoned when a replacement brick tower was completed in 1855. Reportedly this lighthouse was the only one on the Gulf Coast to retain its keeper during the Civil War.

It wasn't until 1880 that Port Pontchartrain lighthouse took on the dumbbell shape we see today. To accommodate a new lantern room, the top of the original tower was expanded with additional brickwork and its height raised by seven feet. When the Levee Board began reclaiming the lakefront in the early 1930s, much of Milneburg was destroyed. But the lighthouse was a survivor: it served as office space when the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park was developed in 1939.

Once considered the south's largest thrill park, its popularity was eclipsed by others and forced to close in 1984. It wasn't until 1991 that the land was acquired from the Levee District by the University of New Orleans as part of a Research and Technology park. Today the lighthouse, which was once located 2,100 feet offshore, now stands on dry ground.

It will be a bit of a challenge to stitch this lighthouse, making it look as attractive as I can while retaining the authenticity of its appearance, but I'll give it my best shot!

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