Heart of Louisiana: Lighthouses in the town of Berwick

Updated: Oct. 30, 2020 at 9:17 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - This century-and-a-half old lighthouse connects the south Louisiana town of Berwick to its history of seafood and shipping along the Atchafalaya River. The Southwest Reef Lighthouse, which predates the civil war, originally stood south of Berwick, near the entrance of Atchafalaya Bay.

“In September of 1859, the light produced for the first time by a fourth-order fresnel lens, which we have one in our town hall that is on display and it’s a very big lens that produced the first light,” said Berwick town councilman Lud Henry.

Except for being shut down by confederal forces during the civil war, this lighthouse was a beacon for mariners until 1916. It sat abandoned for 70 years before it was moved to the Berwick riverfront.

Rust was stripped from the iron structure it was repainted, and a smaller light was added to the tower.

“It’s kind of a, you know, nice beacon when you cross the Atchafalaya River from Morgan City, you see our lighthouse for welcoming you to Berwick from, from the east side of the Atchafalaya,” Henry said.

This historic lighthouse has been on the Berwick riverfront for about 30 years, and it’s about to be getting a new neighbor, another historic lighthouse from the Louisiana coast.

The Ship Shoal Lighthouse, a towering 125-foot-tall structure, was located east of the Atchafalaya near Last Island.

It started operations in 1860 and continued for more than a century until it was abandoned in 1965. The town of Berwick hopes to add this second lighthouse by the end of the year.

“There was some, some local people that were in, uh, actually worked some, some of those lighthouses and, and did things. So it was a big beacon and welcomed things into the Atchafalaya Bay,” Henry said.

The town museum has an oral history of one of the lightkeepers, Godfrey Kiff, who was interviewed in the 1980s.

Kiff says those stations were well built. He goes on to describe them as having four bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room downstairs.

Kiff created a brass model of the Ship Shoal Lighthouse, which is on display in the town museum a couple of blocks from the Riverfront Park.

“You know, ever since this lighthouse arrived, it’s kind of been our, our point of interest. The river is such a beautiful place and people don’t take advantage of it,” Henry said.

Now, this lighthouse and its soon-to-be neighbor will bring an even greater focus to this Berwick’s history and its home on the Atchafalaya River.

The town of Berwick hopes to hold its annual lighthouse festival on the riverfront in mid-November.

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