Digest>Archives> November 1998

Round Island Lighthouse Destroyed


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Round Island Lighthouse as it appeared on ...

The historic Round Island Lighthouse, near Pascagoula, Mississippi has been destroyed by the violent forces of Hurricane Georges that swept a path of destruction across the Gulf this past September 27th.

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Round Island Lighthouse, Mississippi - destroyed ...

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Only the bottom of Round Island Light, submerged ...

Interestingly, the lighthouse was destroyed on the same exact day that a hurricane hit the island back in 1906 that destroyed the Keepers Quarters and other out buildings of the light station.

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The bricks that once formed the tower of Round ...

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Bob Shanklin in the doorway of the Round Island ...

Bob and Sandra Shanklin, known in lighthouse circles as

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The base of the old cistern at Round Island ...

"The Lighthouse People" recently made a trip to photograph the lighthouse and returned again after the hurricane. This is their story. . .

By Sandra Shanklin

On the 19th day of September, Bob and I were in Pascagoula, Mississippi at the invitation of Margaret Meiselbach, one of the members of the Committee to Save Round Island Lighthouse. The committee had been formed not too long before and was just getting their information together as to what they hoped to accomplish and how they hoped to accomplish it. They had already had a donation of rip rap dumped out in the water to form a breakwater to protect the lighthouse, so the work had started.

Margaret had arranged for a boat to take us out to Round Island so that we could shoot the "before" photos. That was meant to be the "before restoration." We had visited the lighthouse five years ago to photograph it and we were now shocked to see water lapping at the base of the lighthouse. It truly needed restoration and preservation.

We had a great boat trip out on that gorgeous day. Tropical Storm Hermine was moving in and I kept thinking about an old story I'd heard about some people going out to Round Island and getting caught in a sudden squall off the Gulf and drowning. Our weather stayed beautiful, although we could see the storm off in the horizon.

We waded ashore and photographed the lighthouse from all angles. We were saddened to see ugly graffiti on the old, yet, still dignified structure. We were reminded how ignorant some people can be. We took many great photos of the lighthouse and we were looking forward to returning when the restoration was done.

It's an ill wind that blows no good and the latest ill wind was Hurricane Georges. After spreading death and destruction in the Caribbean, and one week after we photographed Round Island Lighthouse, Georges came on into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the beaches of North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Although it did not cause the deaths of a week earlier, there was much destruction. Many homes, condominiums and beach-front properties were badly damaged or destroyed. Georges also robbed us of a vital part of history, our heritage. Georges destroyed the Round Island Lighthouse.

Exactly two weeks after the Hurricane, we were back in Pascagoula, Mississippi ready to go out and photograph the destruction, three weeks to the day after we had visited the grand old beacon to photograph it "before the restoration."

This time we went out to the Island with Pascagoula Police Sergeant Paul Leonard transporting us in the official Police Boat. It was another beautiful day, cloudless sky with no storm offshore this time. As we got close to the island, Paul warned us that the island and the lighthouse looked like a bomb had been dropped on them. Other times we had gone there, our first view of the lighthouse was a silhouette at the end of the island, with many trees behind it. This time only a strangely shaped outline showed, with no trees left at that end of the island.

As Sgt. Leonard brought the boat out in front of the lighthouse, we were saddened at what we saw. It looked like the foundation had been washed out from beneath the tower, the tower tilted, and the top two thirds (or three quarters) broke off several feet above the doorway. How pitiful it looked-barely more than a pile of rubble in the water.

After Sgt. Leonard anchored the boat, we again waded ashore and looked over the destruction the hurricane had left. We wondered what had become of the lantern room and finally saw a piece sticking up out of the water that looked like it could be the edge of the roof. Not too far up the beach we saw the old brick foundation of the old cistern that had probably been buried in sand for many years and had now been uncovered. The last couple of times we had been there, four of the piling supports for the last keepers house had still been in existence. Now, they were totally gone, along with the trees and brush. The trees had entirely disappeared, their broken branches and trunks probably washed up on some other shore.

Bricks from the lighthouse were scattered well down the beach and I just couldn't imagine the strength of water that could move bricks so many feet, much less break up a lighthouse.

The structure was the second lighthouse to be built at this location, the first one having been torn down when it was decided it was too close to the water's edge. The current lighthouse, destroyed by Hurricane Georges, was built in 1859 to guide ships through the treacherous shoals and into Mississippi Sound and Pascagoula.

The lighthouse served well into 1946, when it was discontinued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Eventually the City of Pascagoula assumed ownership of the structure and placed it on the National Historic Register.

There are several interesting stories in Round Island's history. It was an out post for blockade runners, smuggling cotton out during the Civil War and was also a quarantine station for Yellow Fever in some later years.

In 1849, mercenary forces and equipment were being gathered on Round Island for a revolution to free Cuba from Spanish rule. History tells us that there were hundreds of men camped on the island readying for an invasion of Cuba. The public was in favor of their plan-the U.S. Government was not.

Under Presidential orders the island was blockaded by U.S. Naval ships to stop the possible invasion and or delivery of arms to revolutionaries in Cuba. This became the only time in U.S. history that United States Naval forces blockaded our own soil. The new keeper at that time, on his way to duty at the lighthouse, was arrested by the Navy. His provisions and boat were seized until he was able to prove who he was. The mercenaries eventually were forced to leave, but not before they left a lot of damage to the keepers house and other buildings.

Round Island had previously survived other hurricanes. In 1860, the keeper and his family were stranded in the lighthouse for several days without food and water. Every building on the island was destroyed at that time except for the tower. In 1906, another fierce hurricane pounded Round Island and the keeper survived by staying inside the tower. Five other people at other Gulf Coast lighthouses were not so lucky and did not survive the killer storm. Until now, this old brick lighthouse had outlasted many others on the Gulf Coast.

I am reminded that there are many other lighthouses on our coasts that could easily fall the way of Round Island. I was sure that Cape St. George, Florida, leaning for several years and already being washed by tides would not survive this storm. But it did, but how much longer will it last?

And by looking at the debris in these photographs, you can be reminded that the bricks shown could be painted black and white-the remnants of North Carolina's endangered Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. We can only hope that the efforts to stabilize or move Hatteras are successful and we will never look at this type of wreckage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

All photographs by Bob & Sandra Shanklin, "The Lighthouse People." They can be contacted at 517 Thornhill Rd, Ft. Walton Beach, FL 32547. Phone: 850-862-4069.

This story appeared in the November 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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