This article talks about the historic lighthouse of Biloxi MS.
The Biloxi Lighthouse is one of the most unique historic lighthouses in the South. Not only did it survive the Civil War, it survived two of the deadliest hurricanes in American history and even the development of a major four-lane highway.
Overlooking Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico from the waterfront of Biloxi MS, the lighthouse stands on an island formed not by water, but by the east-bound and west-bound lanes of U.S. 90. It is, in fact, the only lighthouse in the United States that stands in the center of a major highway.
Built in 1848, the Biloxi Lighthouse is one of the oldest cast iron lighthouses in the nation. While many lighthouses have exterior walls of stone, brick or even concrete, the white-painted walls of the Biloxi tower are sheathed with plates of cast iron.
Forty-five feet tall from its base to its lantern room, the lighthouse was built at a cost of $6,347. It originally was part of a complex that included a keeper’s house and related structures. The strength of its design was proved in 1860 when a hurricane struck Biloxi. The tower, however, was not damaged and in fact continued to operate throughout
It was soon darkened however, but not by the weather. A storm of a different kind erupted over the country in 1861. The Southern states seceded from the Union and Mississippi first became an independent country and then part of the Confederate States of America.
To prevent its being used by the Union navy as a navigation landmark, the Biloxi Light was darkened on June 18, 1861. It remained dark until the end of the Civil War.
During that time Confederate forces occupied then abandoned Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island. It was then occupied by Union troops and remained in their hands until the end of the war. The fort is visible from the top of the lighthouse on clear days.
The Biloxi Lighthouse returned to service at the end of the war. It was shining again by November of 1865.
Persistent legend holds that the tower of the Biloxi Light was painted black in 1865 as a show of mourning following the death by assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. This story is often repeated in magazines and articles and was commonly repeated to tourists in earlier years.
The legend, however, is not true. The lighthouse tower was painted with tar at the time it was reactivated following the war to protect it from rust. Memory of the blackened look of the tower became joined in later years with the Lincoln Assassination and a legend was born.
The Biloxi Lighthouse was painted white in 1868 and has been kept in that color ever since. It survived another hurricane that same year, but again continued to shine through the darkest hours of the storm.
Hurricanes, in fact, have played a major role in the histories of both Biloxi and its beautiful lighthouse.
The October storm of 1893, for example, washed away a seawall and threatened the foundations of the tower itself. There were twin hurricanes in 1916 and 1917, but despite additional damage to the grounds and support structures, the tower survived.
In fact, the Biloxi Lighthouse withstood two of the deadliest hurricanes ever to hit the United States – Camille and Katrina.
Hurricane Camille slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969, with sustained winds of 190 miles per hour or more and gusts of more than 220 miles per hour.
Before it was done, Camille killed roughly 300 people and injured nearly 9,000. More than 5,000 homes were destroyed. The Biloxi Lighthouse Survived.
Camille was followed on August 28, 2005, by Hurricane Katrina. A 28-foot storm surge roared into Biloxi, destroying an estimated 90% of the buildings along the coastline of Biloxi and nearby Gulfport. The surge was the highest ever documented in the United States. It is believed that 126 people died in Harrison County, Mississippi, alone.
The Biloxi Lighthouse was damaged, but still stood. An American flag was draped from its top and for Mississippians, the tower became a symbol of survival and rebirth. It soon adorned Mississippi’s license plates.
The lighthouse, like much of the Biloxi waterfront, has been fully restored. Guided tours ($5 for adults, $2 for students) are available Monday through Saturday at 9, 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. No reservations are needed.