Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Tchefuncte River Light Station

The "Tchefuncte River Light Station" was the subject of an October, 2008, article by Jay C. Martin, Ph.D., in Lighthouse Digest Magazine.

The article told about Madisonville celebrating its 171-year connection with history, particularly its maritime history. The Tchefuncte River has long flowed in and out of Madisonville history, beginning with Native American trade, French and Spanish explorers, and a heritage of shipbuilding that spans 200 years.

In the article, Dr. Martin tells of Bienville founding New Orleans in 1718, and how even then the city relied on the port of Madisonville for shipping valuable cargoes of foodstuffs, building materials and people. "Lake Pontchartrain was sheltered from the weather, was shorted, and did not include all of the many snags and changeability inherent in the delta of the Mississippi," he noted.

The river Tchefuncte, therefore, offered a convenient path into the interior, all the way up into Covington, which then offered overland routes northward. "Given the remarkable changes of hands of New Orleans among the French, Spanish and eventually the Americans (not to mention the British), the north shore was during much of European history a separate international sphere," Martin noted. 

General Andrew Jackson was just one of the more notable personages who saw the importance of the Tchefuncte River and Madisonville. "It provided an alternate inland means of transportation in he south which was less vulnerable from attack" than New Orleans, Martin added. It was Jackson who petitioned Congress to build a military road from Nashville, TN, down to Covington and Madisonville, a distance of 436 miles.

"Madisonville was located on the first convenient high ground one and a half miles up the river," Martin notes. "Important trades in brick making, lumbering, commercial fishing, and shipbuilding developed as a commercial activity, grew, and by 1834 Congress acknowledged the importance of the community and the tricky s-shaped entrance to the Tchefuncte by authorizing construction of a lighthouse there."

Martin commented that the lighthouse, as it stands today, is located on one of the last few marshland wildernesses that exist on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. 

Congress authorized the construction of a conical brick tower, 300 feet tall. Construction was completed in 1838 with ten "Argand lamps and a parabolic reflector. According to Martin, the first lighthouse keeper was Benjamin Thurston, who lived with his family in a small cottage on site. He was close enough to town for daily visits, the article noted, and the light station itself had frequent visitors, who were often amused by Thurston's "pet alligator."

"When the Civil War erupted, Madisonville was still one of the most importance ports on the north shore of the lake," Martin wrote. "The first Tchefuncte River lighthouse was heavily damaged during the Civil War and demolished at the end of hostilities. However, some of the bricks from this first tower were used to build the tower that still stands today," Martin wrote.

After the Civil War, regular steamer schedules between Madisonville and Covington, which was 15 miles upriver, helped maintain the ties between the two communities as well as New Orleans across the lake.

To read the entire magazine article,complete with color photographs, CLICK HERE.