On August 3, 1854, Congress appropriated $6,000 for “a new light-house at New Canal, in place of the present structure, which will not admit of being repaired.” The second New Canal Lighthouse, a square, one-story structure supported by iron pilings, was completed in 1855. The tower’s four-sided roof sloped upwards to the lantern room, which held a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
During the Civil War, the Confederates kept the light active until New Orleans fell to Union forces in April 1862. After damage to the lighthouse was repaired, the light was relit the following year with its pre-war keeper, William A. Waldo, being reappointed.
In 1869, a substantial breakwater was built on the east side of the lighthouse, and a slate roof replaced the old wooden shingles to protect the building from the sparks of passing steamers and its own stovepipe.
On July 7, 1898, a 1,200-pound bell, suspended in a tower and struck by machinery, commenced operation at the station. Fog was common on Lake Pontchartrain during certain periods of the year and greatly slowed navigation. As the lake’s shoreline was quite regular, it was believed that a fog bell would allow vessels to keep on their way in foggy conditions. A covered way connecting the bell tower to the lighthouse was built in 1901, and an oil house was added to the station in 1909.
New Canal Lighthouse just might hold the record for having the most female keepers. At least five women served at the station, most of whom took over when their husbands died while serving as keeper. Elizabeth Beattie became keeper in 1847 after her husband Thomas, who was the first keeper of New Canal Lighthouse, passed away. Keeper Caroline Riddle received commendations for securing the lens and hanging a lantern in the tower during a powerful hurricane in September 1915. As the storm struck, the barometric pressure fell to a U.S. record low of 28.11 inches, while Lake Pontchartrain rose above its levees, flooding parts of New Orleans.
Keeper Margaret Norvell is remembered for her valiant rescues. On one occasion, she used the station’s rowboat to save a Navy pilot, who had crashed his biplane into the lake. In 1925, she helped evacuate passengers from the ferryboat Southland that caught fire and sank near the lighthouse. Margaret Norvell retired on April 30, 1932 after nearly forty-one years of service as a keeper. She was appointed assistant keeper of Head of Passes Lighthouse upon the death of her husband in 1891, and later served at Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse before being transferred to New Canal Lighthouse.
New Canal Lighthouse originally stood approximately 1,000 feet offshore, but landfill projects in the early 1900s slowly brought the shore to the lighthouse, creating what is now Lakefront Park. The lighthouse served as a Coast Guard Station with a search and rescue detachment from the early 1960s until a new facility was completed in Bucktown in 2001.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) had been seeking ownership of New Canal Lighthouse since the Coast Guard left the lighthouse in 2001. Just before Katrina, LPBF was participating in the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Program with a goal to turn the lighthouse into an education center for the public. Undaunted by the damage inflicted by Katrina, LPBF signed a lease with the Coast Guard in September 2006 to restore the lighthouse. Site cleanup and stabilization, which together cost around $75,000, had to be completed before any restoration could begin.
During the fall of 2007, the remains of New Canal Lighthouse were dismantled, and any historic materials that were salvageable were retained. In July 2011, a $439,000 construction contract was signed by Certified Construction Professionals and Chris Holmes, Board Chairman for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Prom Dagoglou of Certified Construction Professionals grew up where he could see the lighthouse and says the rebuilding of the lighthouse “is something we’re going to be putting our heart and souls in.”
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the lighthouse on February 27, 2012, and later that day a truck unloaded pilings to raise the lighthouse nineteen feet above the ground to prevent damage from future storm surges. On August 21, 2012, the lantern room was hoisted atop the rebuilt New Canal Lighthouse. A relighting ceremony scheduled for August 29 had to be postponed as Hurricane Isaac struck New Orleans that day on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The ceremony, which featured a fundraising run, was eventually held on September 26, 2012. Tom Benson, owner of the Saints and FOX 8, had the honor of flipping the switch. “This has meant so much to our city,” said Benson. “It’s like our city. It’s been here forever. That’s why we wanted to light it up again.”
The interior of the lighthouse features interactive displays depicting the history of the lighthouse and the New Basin Canal, the ecology of Lake Pontchartrain, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the surrounding area. The grand opening of the lighthouse was held on April 19, 2013.
Mark Hatcher provided this photograph of the restored lighthouse.