Madisonville looks to give more people access to its iconic lighthouse

Sun sets behind the iconic Tchefuncte River Lighthouse in this file photo (John Snell)
Sun sets behind the iconic Tchefuncte River Lighthouse in this file photo (John Snell)

Madisonville, LA-- On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, at the mouth of the Tchefuncte River, you can step back in time to a landmark built when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

If only you can get to the place.

At the moment, access is only by boat.

To the operators, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum in Madisonville, that isolation is part of what makes the fixture so special.

"You can't get to a working lighthouse that's still out in the marsh," said Lynn Haase, Vice-President of the museum board.  "There are still some that are in cities."

Built in 1868, the lighthouse replaced one that had been destroyed during the Civil War.

"It's an active aid to navigation," said Haase, who notes the light itself has more modern technology.

"The power source is a 12 volt battery with a solar panel outside."

The lighthouse, built with 3-foot brick walls, has stood up to countless tropical storms and hurricanes.

On August 29, Hurricane Isaac damaged the metal door and took out several of the steps of its iron staircase.  However, the light still shines, guiding mariners safely into port as it has since the era of steamboats.

"People have been here for several hundred years and we are not able to share that with everybody," noted Don Lynch, the Maritime Museum Director.

Coastal land loss has isolated the lighthouse, which once was accessed by road.  A caretaker's cottage has been relocated to the museum several miles inland to protect it from surge.

Haase believes the location is "primed for recreation.  It's one heck of a spot."

The museum is "actively pursuing" ways to bring the public back to the lighthouse, according to the Museum Board President John Ammerman.

Ideas range from a tour boat to a long pier running to the site or a small land bridge that would connect to a parking lot at the end of LA highway 1077 about a quarter mile to the east.

Although there is just a vision today and no budget, Ammerman believes the museum and other groups supporting the cause are well connected.

"Come back in a year from now and check on where are with that dream."