H I S T O R Y
There has always seemed to be something mysterious about lighthouses, just as mystery surrounds anything to do with the unknown. In fact, that seems to be the key word in the case of the Round Island lighthouse. It is exciting to learn about all the statistical data and to gather the general information which is readily available, but what about the
unknown? What about all those stories which can not be divulged for fear of prosecution by the law or possibly a romantic tale known only by two people? I find it hard to believe that nothing “exciting” or of major consequence ever happened there.
We do know of a few deaths which occurred in the lighthouse. One of the keepers, Charles Anderson, drowned during a hurricane there, and Mrs. Dorothy Wymer Griffin of New Orleans related a sad story of how 12-year-old Kelly Whitfield was struck by lightening in July of 1975 during a family outing. The family was so grief stricken and saddened by this event, that they never returned to the lighthouse as it became only a haunting reminder of their loss.
To some, however, the lighthouse represents fonder memories.
Lovers who have strolled along the beach of the island and admired the huge structure can look upon it and recall a happy time in their lives. Adults in Pascagoula have told me stories of their childhood linked with the island and the lighthouse. They relate stories of how they ran barefoot on the beach and climbed the tower and daringly swung from the lightening rod. And, of course, there is always the weary sailor, who after many miles of treacherous sea travel, could look in the distance and see the conical shape of the lighthouse and with a sigh of relief know that he was in fact homeward bound.
In 1833 a contract to construct a lighthouse on Round Island was awarded to Noah Porter for the amount of $4,300.00. That contract was voided; sources indicate he decided to accept another contract in Virginia for $4,400.00, August 6, 1832. A new contract was drawn up and awarded to Marshall Lincoln. It was dated May 18, 1833, was handwritten, and specifically stated that the lighthouse, “is to be laid of brick, tower round, the foundation to be laid as deep as may be necessary to make the whole fabric secure. The dwelling house to be of hard brick. The walls of the dwelling house to be 12 inches thick laid in lime mortar and whitewashed twice over. All the floors to be double and well nailed. The inside wall and ceiling to be lathed and plastered and all the inside work to be finished in a plain decent style with good seasoned stuff”. Cost was $5,895.
The contract was signed by Marshall Lincoln and David Henshaw, who at the time was Collector of the District of Boston and Charleston in behalf of the United States of America. Marshall Lincoln, the contractor, was from Plymouth, Mass.
Because the lighthouses on the East Coast were made of “tried and true” materials, they decided to build the Round Island lighthouse of the same quality and grade, hoping to conquer the consequences of time and the elements. This effort proved to be futile, however. The soft sandy soil of the Gulf shores afforded no sure footing for the massive structure. No documentation was found on whether it toppled over or was torn down. In Archives 55, p. 383 in a report written in 1855 by Daniel Leadbetter, Captain of Engineers, Inspector 8th District reads, “….light exhibited from an old and badly built tower, exposed to storms. The keeper’s dwelling is old and encroached upon by the sea. I would recommend that the whole establishment be rebuilt of bricks in a position withdrawn from the present site – the tower and dwelling to be combined, as in the plan originally proposed for East Pascagoula with a fifth order lens would cost approximately $8,000”. Mr. Leadbetter was later a CSA officer.
On August 18, 1856, $8,000 was appropriated for a new lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling. Yet it was not until 1859 that the new lighthouse was built at a cost of $7,130.97. The remainder of the appropriation was transferred to Jupiter Inlet Light Station in Florida
The new lighthouse was fitted with a fourth order Fresnel lens that gave it a visibility of 12-14miles. However, the lamps were barely warm before the hurricane of August 15, 1860 did considerable damage. (Note: Damage not specified)
In 1865 the Light List shows the Round Island lighthouse as being extinguished. The Civil War had been going on from 1861-1864 and other documents record that soldiers, both from the north and south, were extinguishing lights all along the Gulf Coast intentionally (for whatever best suited their needs at the time) and also some were out due to the warfare itself. Records indicate that within that same year, the light was in operation again with Edwin Bailey as keeper and George W. Burgess as his assistant. This was the first mention of an assistant keeper.
As the years went by, the lighthouse keepers changed from time to time. The following is a list of the keepers along with any other information provided:
|Louis Henry Fisher
|Mrs. Margaret Anderson
|Mrs. Mary Hansen
|Lighthouse Board Dissolved
NOTE: It has been reported to me by the children and relatives of the late Mr. Elwood Ladnier that he was the last lighthouse keeper at Round Island. At this writing, more information is being gathered and will be added at a later date.
Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society
Pascagoula, MS 39568