Digest>Archives> November 2000

Lost Pass Christian Lighthouse to be Rebuilt

By Brenda Brown Finnegan


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Photo of the Diboll Scale Model of the 1831 Pass ...
Photo by: C. B. “Buddy” Diboll

Pass Christian, a small harbor town approximately fifteen miles west of Biloxi, Mississippi, is undertaking a major endeavor, thanks to a committee of volunteers from among its population of only 6,000. With the blessings of the city’s Board of Aldermen, the Pass Christian Lighthouse Society is raising funds to rebuild its 1831 lighthouse, which was demolished in 1882 for salvage. The brick lighthouse at Pass Christian was the first mainland tower constructed on the Mississippi Sound, according to Dan Ellis, past president of the Pass Christian Lighthouse Society, predating the Biloxi Lighthouse, built in 1848.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Virgil Harris (left) and Buddy Diboll (right) ...
Photo by: Brenda Finnegan

The Pass Christian Lighthouse was the landmark used in referencing most of the real estate transactions in the area before the Civil War, according to Ellis. It had a twin, built the same year on Cat Island, which is twelve miles offshore in the western Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Cat Island Lighthouse, heavily damaged by a storm in 1860, was replaced by a screwpile lighthouse in the 1870’s, which has since disappeared.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
A close-up view of the logo on one of the gray ...
Photo by: Brenda Finnegan

Both the Pass Christian and Cat Island lighthouses were designed by the same contractor, Winslow Lewis. The cost of construction of the Pass Christian Lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling was $4,897.50. The lighthouse measured 18’ 2” wide at the outer base with 3 feet thick walls of brick. The tower tapered to nine feet at the top with a thickness of one and a half feet. It was finished in stucco and whitewashed.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
C. B. “Buddy” Diboll inside Pass Christian City ...
Photo by: Brenda Finnegan

Measuring thirty and a half feet tall, it was topped off with a six foot octagonal iron dome. The lantern was made of ten lamps and reflectors, fueled by whale oil. The lighthouse had a wire which served as a lightning rod running down its entire side. The dome was also topped with a lightning rod. It was one of the smallest class of lighthouse built by the government.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Virgil Harris (left) and Dan Ellis (right), ...
Photo by: Brenda Finnegan

Pass Christian, which is less than 100 miles from New Orleans, has always been a popular recreational site for New Orleans residents. At the time the lighthouse was built, many neighbors from Louisiana owned summer homes in the small but beautiful sea-side community, and a good many pleasure boats as well as commercial vessels churned through the Mississippi Sound from New Orleans to the Mississippi Coast, or on to the port of Mobile, Alabama, protected by barrier islands from strong winds of the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the late author David L. Cipra, a 28 year veteran of the Coast Guard, Pass Christian (pronounced Pass Chris-chee-Ann) takes its name from a nearby channel discovered by Christian l’Andier. He also says in his book, Lighthouses, Lightships and the Gulf of Mexico, that Andrew Jackson raised the U. S. Flag over Pass Christian in January, 1811, as he marched eastward through Spanish West Florida to demonstrate that Spain could not deny America’s claim to the territory.

The lighthouse’s half-acre site, on a coastal ridge where the Pass Christian City Hall now sits, was purchased for $250 by the U. S. Government from Edward and Louisa Livingston, residents of New Orleans. Livingston was a U. S. Senator who also had a home in New York. The “lighthouse lot,” as it came to be known, measured 104 by 208 feet, at a distance of about 80 feet north of the shore. The lighthouse stood nineteen feet above the Sound and could be seen from over twelve miles away.

The real estate agent who brokered the sale of the lot, Roger A. Hiern, also became the first lighthouse keeper on July 1, 1831. Since the government had not yet supplied oil for the lamps, Hiern hired a laborer to light bonfires nightly until the oil was procured. The captain of a mail steamer on the New Orleans-to-Mobile run supposedly paid Hiern fifty cents per night for the bonfires. The street on the east side of the lot bears the Hiern name. The lighthouse was maintained by the Hiern family for the next 30 years, until the Civil War dimmed the light in the early 1860’s, and Confederate forces hid the lens. The lens were discovered, undamaged, after the War Between the States and the lighthouse was again operational on August 15, 1865.

In 1878, according to Cipra, the Lighthouse Service proposed an addition to the lighthouse, which was then being blocked by tree limbs. Since a nearby store-owner refused to cut the obstructing limbs from his tree, which were blocking seaward visibility, the Lighthouse Service finally decided to extinguish the light. Despite Congressional efforts to reestablish the light, the bill failed 41 to 55. In 1882 the city fathers decided to auction off the lighthouse complex. The light was extinguished on October 1, 1882.

In 1883, Lawrence C. Fallon of New Orleans successfully bid $1,225.00 for the lot, tower, building and outbuildings. Buildings included the keeper’s dwelling, a two bedroom home with wood-burning fireplaces and a front gallery. The home (which was built in 1878 to replace the original) was moved to another location. Eighty-six years later, it was totally destroyed by Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 hurricane which devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969. Pass Christian was directly in its path.

The Pass Christian Lighthouse Society, which is leading the effort to rebuild the lighthouse, is an outgrowth of the 1999 Tricentennial Committee, which was formed to celebrate the cultural heritage and colonial history of the “pass” for the 300 year period following the exploration of the coast by Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d’Iberville, a French-Canadian explorer, and his brother, Bienville. After establishing the first capital of the Louisiana Territory in what is now Ocean Springs, about 25 miles east of Pass Christian, d’Iberville and his brother explored and mapped the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast., later moving the capital to New Orleans. Ship Island, offshore of Biloxi and the site of another recently reconstructed lighthouse, was once used as the base of the brothers’ exploration.

The current president of the Pass Christian Lighthouse Society, Virgil Harris, explained that the reconstructed lighthouse will be across from where the city hall sits and Highway 90, just below Scenic Drive, on the beach at Pass Christian Harbor, just a few hundred feet from the original site. The land is owned by the city, which is cooperating fully with efforts to rebuild the lighthouse. According to calculations made from old photos, the original site is now in the middle of the sidewalk in front of city hall. The new site can be seen from the sidewalk.

The replica will be constructed of concrete block, but stuccoed to resemble the original as closely as possible. A fiberglass dome, which according to Harris will be undetectable from the ground from the original cast iron, will top the structure. Though it will be located south of the original site, it will still be 80 feet from the shore, as the area in front of city hall has been landfilled over the years. Near the new site is the Chamber of Commerce building, and also the Pass Christian harbor master’s office, overlooking the tranquil harbor filled with bobbing sailboats.

C. B. “Buddy” Diboll, a local model maker, has constructed a 2 ft. by 4 ft. glass enclosed model of the entire lighthouse complex and has donated the model, which is valued at between $7,000 and $8,000 to the society. He proudly displays it at local events when invited. The model has already been on display at several coastal casinos and at community festivals.

An original painting by local artist Geri Dendis has also been donated to the society, and will be auctioned off a later date. Prints of the painting are being sold to raise funds for the reconstruction, as are polo shirts embroidered with the society’s name, a replica of the lighthouse, and the dates, 1831-1882. Currently there are about 150 paid members in the society, which has other plans for raising funds as the project moves along. Some ideas include grants and corporate donations to help fund the architectural and construction costs, which are estimated to be over $100,000. The society, which has not set a completion date, is hoping to raise enough for a maintenance fund following the construction.

This story appeared in the November 2000 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History